Coming to Terms with Wilderness: The Wilderness Act and the Problem of Wildlife Restoration

By Kammer, Sean | Environmental Law, Winter 2013 | Go to article overview

Coming to Terms with Wilderness: The Wilderness Act and the Problem of Wildlife Restoration


Kammer, Sean, Environmental Law


I. INTRODUCTION

II. RECENT ECOLOGICAL INTERVENTIONS IN WILDERNESS AREAS FOR PURPOSES
OF WILDLIFE RESTORATION

    A. Restoration of Bighorn Sheep in the Kofa Wilderness

    B. Tracking of Gray Wolves in the River of No Return Wilderness

    C. Restoration of Paiute Cutthroat Trout in the Carson-Iceberg

Wilderness

III. LEVEL OF JUDICIAL DEFERENCE OWED TO AGENCY INTERPRETATIONS
OF THE WILDERNESS ACT

IV. WILDERNESS ACT'S SUBSTANTIVE REQUIREMENTS AND PROHIBITIONS

    A. Proposing an Internally Consistent Definition of "Wilderness
Character"

    B. Management of Wilderness

V. RESOLVING THE PROBLEM OF WILDLIFE RESTORATION IN WILDERNESS AREAS

    A. Restoration of Bighorn Sheep in the Kofa Wilderness

    B. Tracking of Gray Wolves in the River of No Return Wilderness

    C. Restoration of Paiute Cutthroat Trout in the Carson-Iceberg

Wilderness

VI. CONCLUSION

I. INTRODUCTION

With its passage of the Wilderness Act (1) in 1964, Congress formally recognized as a policy of the United States the preservation and protection for present and future Americans "the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness." (2) To fulfill this basic purpose, Congress established a National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) composed of congressionally designated wilderness areas, to be administered to ensure "the preservation of their wilderness character." (3) Using poetic language atypical of congressional legislation, Congress defined "wilderness"--a term with much historical and cultural baggage--as "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain," as opposed to those areas "where man and his own works dominate the landscape." (4) Since the passage of the Act, federal land agencies have particularly struggled to balance the diverse values wilderness areas were meant to promote. (5) The Wilderness Act was designed to protect these areas from human "trammeling" primarily on a local scale by minimizing direct, intentional physical disturbances. Yet, serious questions are raised about the Act's conception of wilderness and its mandate to preserve "wilderness character" when the communities of life within the areas are deemed threatened not by direct and immediate human impacts, but by human-induced changes--such as climate change or habitat loss-occurring on a much wider scale. (6)

Interventions to restore wildlife populations in wilderness areas have incited much controversy in recent years. Each instance has exemplified the dilemmas facing land managers (and wilderness advocacy groups) as they attempt to address the apparent tensions embedded in the legal regime of wilderness preservation. In one recent case, for example, Wilderness Watch and other environmental groups challenged the construction of water tanks in the Kofa Wilderness Area of Arizona. (7) Because the tanks were meant to rehabilitate and stabilize populations of bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis) in the area, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) defended its action as necessary for the conservation of that species, which it held to be an important purpose of that particular wilderness designation, if not of wilderness protection generally. (8) Wilderness Watch and the other plaintiffs took a different view, contending that the structures, rather than preserving wilderness character of the area, in fact--represented an intentional manipulation of the area's natural conditions--just the sort of management activity Congress intended to prohibit. (9) The court thus faced the apparent paradox between wildness and pristine naturalness. It had to choose between allowing land managers to deliberately manipulate the ecology of the area in order to preserve their view of what was "natural" to it--thereby depriving the area of its wildness--or restricting the ability of land managers to preserve their view of the "natural" in order to maintain the area's wildness or freedom from human control. …

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