Wilderness Preservation:

Problems in Some National Forests Should Be Addressed

RCED-89-202: Published: Sep 26, 1989. Publicly Released: Sep 26, 1989.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed the Forest Service's management of its National Wilderness Preservation System lands, focusing on: (1) the extent of resource deterioration in wilderness areas; and (2) Service staffing and funding devoted to wilderness management.

GAO found that the Service: (1) managed about 32.5 million acres of National Wilderness Preservation System lands, including 354 wilderness areas; (2) decentralized wilderness area management to the individual forest and district office levels, with oversight by regional offices and headquarters; (3) did not require wilderness managers to maintain comprehensive information on wilderness area conditions, although managers indicated that there was a considerable amount of unmet trail maintenance and reconstruction needs and campsite deterioration; (4) did not periodically inventory conditions in many wilderness areas and could not determine whether conditions were improving or worsening; (5) had unnecessarily large or highly visible administrative and recreational facilities and structures in several wilderness areas, which did not comply with its policy to maintain low visibility; (6) did not maintain information about funding and staffing it devoted to management of individual wilderness areas; and (7) believes that staffing and funding have been inadequate to achieve its objectives, resulting in its not performing monitoring, data-gathering, trail maintenance, campsite cleanup, and public education tasks it believes necessary to protect the wilderness areas.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: An agreement was reached on June 4, 1990, between the Forest Service and the Idaho Oufitters and Guides Association. This agreement sets the tone for future outfitter and guide structures being temporary in nature. Revisions to the Forest Service Manual are expected.

    Recommendation: To improve administration of the National Wilderness Preservation System, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to establish a uniform national policy for dealing with outfitter and guide structures and facilities within wilderness areas that minimizes the presence of such structures in keeping with the spirit of the Wilderness Act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Forest Service headquarters provided written guidance to evaluate structures. Revisions to instructions have been completed.

    Recommendation: To improve administration of the National Wilderness Preservation System, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to evaluate present Forest Service administrative sites to determine whether the structures: (1) are the minimum needed to protect the resource and the safety of users; and (2) set a proper example for other visitors to the area.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: One hundred forty additional trainers who can assist or train local units in applying the limits of acceptable change concept were certified, and revisions to the Forest Service Manual will include an entire section on limits of acceptable change.

    Recommendation: To improve administration of the National Wilderness Preservation System, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to consider the applicability of the limits of acceptable change method or other methods to assess changes in wilderness conditions.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: A task force was formed to address the resource information needs for wilderness management and ensure incorporation of such information in Forest Service data systems. The task force has completed its work and issued its report on monitoring for wilderness conditions.

    Recommendation: To improve administration of the National Wilderness Preservation System, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, to develop baseline inventory information on the condition of each designated wilderness and monitor changes in the condition and extent of use in wilderness areas.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Forest Service field units are now required to complete Wilderness Implementation Schedules that will address such issues.

    Recommendation: To improve administration of the National Wilderness Preservation System and provide Congress with current and accurate budget information, the Secretary of Agriculture should direct the Chief, Forest Service, in conjunction with the development of baseline inventory information on the condition of individual wilderness areas, to compile information on the total funding and staffing needed to manage wilderness areas in a manner that will meet the objectives of the Wilderness Act.

    Agency Affected: Department of Agriculture

 

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