Alaska Wildlife Refuges:

Restrictive Criteria Used to Recommend Additional Wilderness

RCED-89-155: Published: Sep 28, 1989. Publicly Released: Oct 12, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Fish and Wildlife Service's (FWS) recommendations for additional wilderness designations in its 16 Alaska wildlife refuges.

GAO found that: (1) FWS recommended designating an additional 3.4 million acres of refuge lands as wilderness areas, although 52.6 million acres qualified as wilderness; (2) refuge managers and planning team members recommended designating 31.9 million and 26.9 million acres, respectively, of additional wilderness areas; (3) FWS based its policy of restricting designations of additional wilderness areas on congressional intent to limit the establishment of additional areas, and focused wilderness area proposals on adjusting the boundaries of existing areas and adding lands with outstanding or unique resource values that Congress may have inadvertently overlooked during other wilderness designations; (4) other FWS criteria for evaluating refuge lands' wilderness quality involved land ownership, the area's natural integrity and state of nature, opportunities for solitude, primitive recreation opportunities, and size; and (5) refuge managers and planning team members cited differences in opinions regarding flexible and effective resource management and perceived threat of overuse or development as the primary reasons for their differing preferences for additional wilderness area designations. GAO believes that: (1) the designation of additional refuge wilderness areas would not conflict with congressional intent, since the areas are already part of national conservation units; and (2) it is important that Congress consider the basis upon which FWS prepared its recommendations for wilderness area designations.

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