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Statement on Signing a Bill Concerning the Cumberland Island Wilderness Area and Crater Lake National Park

September 09, 1982

I have today signed into law S. 1119, a bill that would designate a new Cumberland Island Wilderness Area in Georgia and make a boundary line adjustment in Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

This bill designates the first new wilderness area to which I have had the pleasure of granting statutory protection. Cumberland Island is the largest and southernmost of Georgia's offshore barrier islands. It was designated as a national seashore to protect its outstanding natural, historical, cultural, and recreational values, and to provide a continuing source of outdoor recreation for the American public.

The bill will add a further degree of protection to these values by designating the area as wilderness. Both this administration and the general public have supported this designation in order to preserve these essentially wild lands in their natural state. This is particularly important in our Eastern States, where few areas remain that are "affected primarily by the forces of nature."

The bill designates certain lands on Cumberland Island as wilderness and sets aside certain other lands as "proposed wilderness," to be designated at a future date, when nonconforming uses of them have ceased. Within the area being designated as wilderness are an underground power line, several maintained access roads, and a number of residences and other structures. Within the area identified as proposed wilderness are several estate access roads and two parcels which contain structures of possible historic significance. Because of these intrusions, neither of these areas is wilderness within the meaning of the 1964 Wilderness Act, and their inclusion in this legislation should not in any way be deemed as an implied amendment to the Wilderness Act.

Including areas into the National Wilderness Preservation System which do not meet the suitability criteria of the Wilderness Act System will necessarily create conflicts in management of the area. Such is the case with Cumberland Island. Management of Cumberland Island is further complicated due to the ambiguity created by the language of the bill itself and legislative history which accompanies it. The bill states that the island is to be managed in accordance with the Wilderness Act subject, however, to valid existing rights. The House and Senate reports attempt to catalog such rights by listing the various manmade intrusions in the area and at the same time set forth how the area will be managed with these intrusions. In light of the conflict between the requirements to manage the island in accordance with the Wilderness Act and to protect valid existing rights, I am directing the Department of the Interior to manage Cumberland Island in a manner similar to wilderness, to the maximum extent practicable consistent with the other uses for the area set forth in the legislative history.

Additional concerns have been raised relative to the impact of the wilderness designation on the Navy's proposed development of the nearby Military Ocean Terminal at King's Bay, Georgia. Development of this facility may require continued enforcement of restrictive easements over lands that are now to be designated wilderness. Additionally, I note that some have suggested a need to reduce flights of aircraft over the island. These are also valid existing rights that are to be protected. Designating Cumberland Island as wilderness must not be allowed to interfere with military operations over the island. I do not view wilderness designation as incompatible with any of these rights. Accordingly, I am asking the Secretaries of Defense and the Interior to enter into a memorandum of understanding, to provide for the continued exercise of these rights.

Similarly, there are concerns about the continued use of a portion of the island not proposed for wilderness designation as a site for the disposal of dredged material by the Army Corps of Engineers. Development of King's Bay by the Navy may necessitate additional dredging in the area, as well as a potential diversion of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway around several of the smaller islands that comprise a portion of the Cumberland Island National Seashore, conducted in accordance with the usual environmental permits. These activities would also involve valid existing rights, protected under this legislation, and would not be incompatible with wilderness designation.

Finally on Cumberland Island, I would like to state that, although there have been some areas included in the National Wilderness Preservation System previously which did not meet the statutory definition of wilderness, I am reluctant to support this practice in the future. Wilderness legislation should designate only those areas which are truly pristine, in order to prevent the type of management conflicts in wilderness areas as are evident with Cumberland Island. Nevertheless, Cumberland Island is an important resource which should be given the added protection management that the Wilderness Act provides.

The other provisions contained in S. 1119 revise the boundary of Crater Lake National Park to exclude certain land which was erroneously included within the park boundary by an earlier Act of Congress, despite the fact that the land was subject to a prior-existing timber sale contract. In so doing, the legislation will eliminate this potential conflict and protect the scenic and recreational values which have made this unique and world-renowned park such a popular tourist attraction.

Note: As enacted, S. 1119 is Public Law 97250, approved September 9.

Ronald Reagan, Statement on Signing a Bill Concerning the Cumberland Island Wilderness Area and Crater Lake National Park Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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