Fire Island Wilderness Needs Your Help!

Comments due Dec. 12

The National Park Service (NPS) is requesting comments on its Draft Fire Island Wilderness Breach Management Plan and Draft Environmental Impact Statement. Your comments are needed by Dec. 12 to help insure that Nature will be allowed to take its own course in this Wilderness.

The Fire Island National Seashore lies just outside of New York City on a barrier island just south of Long Island. Within the seashore lies the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness, a 1,380-acre unit of the National Wilderness Preservation System and the only federal Wilderness in New York. (The Wildernesses in the Adirondacks are state-owned.) The Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness stretches for seven miles along the eastern half of 32-mile-long Fire Island. The legislation that designated the Wilderness contained language that allows the Park Service to fill in breaches in the Wilderness under certain circumstances.

On October 29, 2012, Hurricane Sandy created a breach in the Fire Island Wilderness. To its credit, the Park Service resisted early calls to fill in the breach, and has instead monitored the breach and its effects, which have included a significant improvement in water quality in the Great South Bay between Long Island and Fire Island. Now the agency is developing a long-term breach management plan.

fire-island-w-nps.jpgThe draft breach management plan includes three alternatives. Alternative 1 (Closure Using Mechanical Processes) would mechanically close the breach as soon as possible. Alternative 2 (Status Determined Entirely by Natural Processes) is the no-action alternative that would allow natural processes to determine what happens with the breach. Alternative 3 (No Human Intervention unless Established Criteria are Exceeded) is the Park Service’s preferred alternative that would allow the agency to mechanically close the breach “to prevent loss of life, flooding, and other severe economic and physical damage to the Great South Bay and surrounding areas” (the language from the Fire Island wilderness bill).

Even though Alternative 3 would be legal under the Fire Island wilderness legislation, Wilderness Watch believes that the alternative that best protects the wilderness character of the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness is Alternative 2, allowing natural processes to determine what happens with the breach.


Please go to the National Park Service’s website to submit comments on the draft breach management plan at:

Fill out the contact form, and in the comment box, please tell the Park Service that you support Alternative 2, since it best protects the wilderness character of the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. Consider including the following points:

1. You appreciate the NPS restraint in not filling the breach to date.

2. Leaving the breach as is presents an important scientific and educational opportunity—two of the important values of Wilderness.

3. The breach was caused by natural processes, and natural processes should determine whether the breach remains or is filled in. That is the essence of Wilderness.

4. Alternative 2 best protects the wilderness character of the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness.

The comment period ends on Dec. 12 at midnight Mountain Time. Thanks for your help in protecting this unique Wilderness!

Read a news story on this issue.

Photo credit: National Park Service

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