Wilderness Watch is asking the National Park Service to allow natural processes to determine the outcome of the breach in the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness in New York. In December 2016, WW submitted comments supporting the No-Action Alternative (Alternative 2) in the Park Service’s Draft Fire Island Wilderness breach Management Plan and Draft EIS (DEIS).
The Fire Island National Seashore lies just outside of New York City on a barrier island 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 allowing 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.
The 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).
Wilderness Watch appreciates the Park Service’s restraint in not filling the breach to date. Alternative 2 best protects the wilderness character of the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness.
Photo: National Park Service