WW has been urging the Forest Service (FS) to protect and improve the wilderness character of the largest Wilderness Study Area (WSA) in the country—the nearly two million-acre Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA in Alaska. On October 29, 2019, we filed an Objection to the FS's Chugach Forest Plan Revision Draft Record of Decision, the Final Land Management Plan, and the Final Environmental Impact Statement.
• Read our Objection
The Congressionally-designated Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA on the Chugach National Forest in Alaska’s western Prince William Sound is an ecological and scenic treasure of ancient rainforest, wild salmon, remote islands, and stunning mountains and glaciers.
In January 2020, Wilderness Watch participated in an objection resolution meeting with the Forest Service and later that month, the Forest Service responded to our Objection by denying nearly all of our concerns. The one silver lining is that the Forest Service will define the baseline character of the WSA within a year. Such a study will help conservationists hold the FS accountable for degradation of the WSA going forward, but of course will not measure the degradation that has occurred from 1980 until the present.
Background: The FS’s Draft Land and Resource Management Plan for the Chugach National Forest (NF) in Alaska was an improvement over its 2016 proposed plan. However, WW had urged the FS to strengthen the current proposed Forest Plan with the following changes:
- The Plan must protect the “wilderness character” of the WSA, not the Forest Service’s weak proposal to protect just its “existing character.” Furthermore, the Plan must protect the wilderness character of the lands in the WSA by classifying all of them with the Forest Service’s “Primitive” standard, which is the most protective standard in the agency’s recreational classification system.
- Restore strong protection to the lands within the WSA that the federal government purchased following the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill. These lands were acquired for the restoration of wilderness values and must be managed “in perpetuity for conservation and wilderness purposes,” as promised when they were purchased.
- The Chugach NF must address ongoing illegal recreational use of chainsaws in the WSA, which has resulted in damaging tree removal along dozens of wilderness beaches, including in sensitive areas.
- Alternative D recommends the maximum amount of land for Wilderness of any of the Alternatives (97 percent of the WSA, or 1.884 million acres). We support a modified Alternative D wilderness recommendation that also includes Lake Nellie Juan and the lands within the WSA boundary that were purchased for restoration of wilderness resources following the oil spill.
In 2016, WW urged the Forest Service to:
- keep its longstanding promise to protect the wild character of the entire WSA until Congress finalizes its protection;
- recommend the 1.9 million eligible acres of the WSA and surrounding roadless lands eligible for wilderness designation as Wilderness;
- not abandon protection for the nearly 600,000 acres it proposes to eliminate from the WSA;
- reverse its recommendation to split the Wilderness Study Area into two smaller units; and
- prohibit recreational snowmobile use in the WSA.
Photo: Nellie Juan-College Fiord WSA by Frank Kovalchek