37 B. Wilderness Designation Proposals

Crater Lake National Park: Administrative History by Harlan D. Unrau and Stephen Mark, 1987


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CHAPTER NINE: Legislation Relating to Crater Lake National Park: 1916-Present


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A National Wilderness Preservation System, established by Congress on September 3, 1964, has had a significant impact on administration and management of Crater Lake National Park. The establishing act of the system (Public Law 88-577) stated that it was “the policy of Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” Within ten years the Secretary of the Interior was to:

review every roadless area of five thousand contiguous acres or more in the national parks, monuments and other units of the national park system . . ., under his jurisdiction of the effective date of this Act and shall report to the President his recommendation as to the suitability or nonsuitability of each such area . . . for preservation as wilderness.

The National Wilderness Preservation System was “to be composed of federally owned areas designated by Congress as ‘wilderness areas’.” The law defined a wilderness 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. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean . . . an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which: (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least 5,000 acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical values.

Areas included in the wilderness system would continue to be managed by the agencies having jurisdiction over them. [48]

Studies were conducted at Crater Lake National Park for several years, culminating in the preparation of a Wilderness Proposal in October 1970. [49] Five roadless areas within the park totaling some 151,100 acres were studied. Four of the areas were located, one in each quadrant of the park, and the fifth encompassed Crater Lake itself. Each of the four areas had, according to the proposal, “a remarkable variety of natural features.” The “forested crater slopes and river drainages” had “retained much of their original wilderness character ever since the park was established in 1902.” The proposal stated further:

The park is almost entirely surrounded by national forest lands managed by the Forest Service for multiple use, primarily timber production. Logging roads run close to the park boundary in many places. The forest on the east is of poor quality; it was clearcut in the past, but is now selectively cut. Along much of the west boundary, the area outside the park has been logged to within 100 yards of the park. Logging in the national forest to the north of the park has not been very active because of the forest type there. National forest land lying immediately southwest of the park has not been logged, and the Forest Service is administering this area in a primitive condition.

The proposal contained descriptions of the four areas in the park recommended for wilderness designation. The four areas comprised a total of some 104,200 acres. Preliminary Wilderness Proposal No. 1 consisted of some 31,500 acres of an approximate 38,300 acres in the northeast roadless area. This area had the following boundaries and predominant visitor uses:

This roadless area extends from the north entrance eastward to the northeast corner of the park, then southward past the eastern slopes of Mt. Scott to the Pinnacles area. Its western boundary extends from the Pinnacles area along the Pinnacles Road, the Rim Drive, and the North Entrance Road. The northeast roadless area varies in width from 1-1/2 to 8 miles along its 15-1/2-mile length. . . .

Predominant visitor uses in this roadless area are hiking, fishing, and limited wilderness camping. The region is too dry for extensive back-country use. A 2-1/2-mile trail to the summit of Mt. Scott is maintained for hikers.

Preliminary Wilderness Proposal No. 2 consisted of some 18,000 acres of an approximate 21,400-acre roadless area in the southeast portion of the park. The boundaries and features of this area were:

The southeast roadless area extends from the Pinnacles Road at the eastern boundary southward to the southeast corner of the park, and then along the south boundary westward to the “panhandle” of the park. Its western and northern boundaries are the South Entrance, Rim Drive, and the Pinnacles and Grayback Motor Nature Roads. The area is an irregularly shaped 5- by 9-mile section. . . .

Annie Creek and its tributaries drain the western part of the area. Within its canyons are fragile biological communities and unusual geologic formations, including columnar-jointed scoria and pinnacles formed by differential erosion in “fossil fumarole” areas.

Bisecting this area is Sun Creek, a major stream that provides one of the principal fisheries of the park.

Preliminary Wilderness Proposal No. 3 comprised some 12,500 acres of an approximate 19,500-acre roadless area in the southwest section of the park. This area was described:

The roadless area in the southwest section of the park consists of some 19,500 acres and extends from the South Entrance along the south and west boundary, the West and South Entrance Roads, and the Union Peak Motor Nature Road. Within the area is a plateau dominated by Matterhorn-like Union Peak, with deep Red Blanket Canyon as a feature of the southwest corner. Several cones and other volcanic features are also of geologic interest. Plant cover represents three life zones, and varies from the sparcity of a pumice desert to the lushness of a mature forest; and there are lower elevation plants found in the Red Blanket Creek drainage.

Union Peak, the dominant geological feature of this area, at an elevation of 7698 feet, is an outstanding remnant plug of one of the major Pliocene shield volcanoes in the region.

Whitehorse Pond contains salamander populations which have been subjected to intensive scientific study. A small but growing herd of elk regularly occupies the country surrounding Union Peak.

Preliminary Wilderness Proposal No. 4 consisted of some 42,200 acres of an approximate 50,900-acre roadless area in the northwest section of the park. This area was described:

The largest roadless area in Crater Lake is the northwest section of the park. It is an area . . . from 4 to 7 miles wide and 13 miles long, and lies along the west slope of the Crater Lake caldera.

The Rogue River and several tributary streams originate in the series of springs within the western portion of the area.

Sphagnum Bog, near the western boundary, is the nucleus of a bog development unique to the area and rare throughout the entire region. Insectivorous plants of several species flourish here, and the entire community forms a distinct contrast to its surrounding area. Here, as in the park’s other roadless areas, there are forests of whitebark pine, mountain hemlock, and western white, lodgepole, and ponderosa pines at the higher to lower elevations.

Boundary Springs on the north boundary forms the headwaters of the Rogue River. These waters spring forth most unexpectedly from the otherwise-arid ground of the area, splash downward over the irregular terrain into a stream which leads north away from the park, producing an aquatic scene of great esthetic appeal.

While the lake was studied for possible wilderness designation, it was not recommended for the system. Boat use and lakeshore development at Cleetwood Cove and Wizard Island were found to be incompatible with the requirements for such designation. [50]

As required by the Wilderness Act, public hearings were held on the Crater LakeWilderness Proposal in Klamath Falls and Medford in January 1971 . Various proposals were set forth by public agencies and private organizations at the hearings. The Wilderness Society introduced an alternate proposal to enlarge the wilderness designations in the park by opposing the proposed Union Peak Motor Nature Road and the 1/8-mile management zones along the park boundary and recommending that a 20,000-acre Caldera Wilderness, encompassing Crater Lake, the islands, and the undeveloped rimlands, be included in the wilderness designation. Major organizations that generally supported or had similar positions to that of the Wilderness Society included the Izaak Walton League of America, Friends of Three Sisters Wilderness, National Parks and Conservation Association, Oregon Wildlife Federation, and Sierra Club. [51]

A “seasonal” wilderness concept was proposed by the Oregon Environmental Council whereby two wilderness boundaries would be established for the park. One boundary would be designated during the summer visitor-use season, and a different boundary would be established for “winter wilderness,” closing the entire northern part of the park to all motorized vehicles during the winter months.

The National Park Service proposal, however, was supported by the Oregon State Game and Fish commissions and seven other public agencies. Among the most important supporters of the Park Service was the U.S. Forest Service whose national forest lands surrounded the park.

For the next several years the National Park Service studied the oral and written statements presented at the hearings and restudied the question of management needs. In February 1974 the final wilderness recommendations for Crater Lake were approved by NPS Director Ronald Walker. Three additions, totaling 18,200 acres, were recommended to supplement the earlier proposal. Some 7,300 acres were added to Preliminary Wilderness Proposal No. 3 as a result of deleting the proposed Union Peak Motor Nature Road and closure to vehicular traffic of the fire roads in the Union Peak area, portions of which would become the route of the Pacific Crest Trail. The 1/8-mile-wide management zone, totaling 4,400 acres, was recommended for addition to the wilderness designation since it was “believed that actions needed for the health and safety of wilderness travelers, or for the protection of the wilderness area, utilizing the minimum tool, equipment or structure necessary, may take place within the wilderness.” Wilderness Unit 5, comprising 6,500 acres along the rim area on the southern side of the lake within the Rim Drive and the caldera walls, except for the Cleetwood Cove access and service corridor, was also recommended for designation. With these additions the total acreage of recommended wilderness designation was approximately 122,400. [52]

The wilderness recommendation was sent by President Richard M. Nixon to Congress on June 13, 1974. Pending congressional action to establish formally the areas as designated wilderness, the areas were managed in accordance with the guidelines prescribed in the Wilderness Act and the National Park Service wilderness management policies. [53]

In 1980 Public Law 96-553 (94 Stat. 3255) provided for the qualification of additional acres for designation as wilderness in Crater Lake National Park. This law added nearly 16,000 acres from U.S. Forest Service RARE II lands, resulting in a total proposal of some 138,310 acres in 1981 . The additional acreage was developed using a zone concept based on straight lines drawn on the park map. A serious drawback of that technique, however, was the difficulty of determining where on the ground nonwilderness ended and wilderness commenced.

The current proposal for wilderness designation in Crater Lake National Park, according to its 1986 Statement for Management, incorporates three principal concepts. These are that: (1) nonwilderness extends 200 feet beyond the edge of all development including motor vehicle roads; (2) all park areas not currently falling within this 200-foot corridor around development are recommended for wilderness designation; and (3) the entire lake surface is recommended for wilderness designation except for four acres at Cleetwood Cove and four acres at Wizard Island where boat docking and storage occur. The Park Service has taken the position that the existence and continued use of the concessioner-operated tour boats and the lake research boats do not preclude the lake surface from wilderness designation (NPS Management Policies, VI-7, 1978). Thus, the current acreage within the park recommended for wilderness designation is 166,149.[54]