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Fish and Wildlife Service Wilderness Recommendation Process

The Fish and Wildlife Service uses the following process to consider National Wildlife Refuge System areas for inclusion within the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Wilderness Review

All lands and waters administered by the National Wildlife Refuge System are evaluated for their eligibility or ineligibility for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System. A wilderness review is conducted concurrently with a Refuge's Comprehensive Conservation Planning process. A wilderness review is the agency's inventory, study, and decision-making process used to determine whether to recommend Refuge System lands and waters for wilderness designation.

Primary Eligibility Criteria

National Wildlife Refuge System lands are considered eligible for wilderness if they are at least 5,000 acres or of sufficient size to make practicable their preservation and use in an unimpaired condition, and if they possess the following characteristics (as identified in the Wilderness Act):
  • Generally appears to be natural and human presence is relatively unnoticeable
  • Offers outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation
  • Might contain features of ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic, or historical significance

The Wilderness Review Process

The wilderness review process for Refuge System lands and waters is concluded when a refuge finishes the inventory, study, and recommendation phases. Wilderness area recommendations made to the Department of Interior are accompanied by an Environmental Impact Statement, which is prepared in accordance with NEPA requirements, including public involvement.

Wilderness Study Area

An area that is being considered for wilderness recommendation. WSA's are identified in the inventory phase of wilderness review.

Recommended wilderness

An area of the Refuge System that the Director of the Fish and Wildlife Service has recommended to the Secretary for inclusion in the NWPS.

Proposed wilderness

An area of the Refuge System that the Secretary of the Interior has recommended to the President for inclusion in the NWPS. Proposed wilderness is managed as designated wilderness.

Designated wilderness

An area designated in legislation and administered as part of the NWPS and in accordance with the Wilderness Act.



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