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Contact: Tom VandenBerg, 432-477-1107
Contact: Bob Krumenaker, 432-477-1102
BIG BEND NATIONAL PARK, Texas - Over 99 additional square miles of rugged mountains and sweeping desert expanses in the northern reaches of Big Bend National Park have been determined eligible for wilderness designation. This administrative determination does not make a recommendation to Congress for designation and has no impact on public use, nor does it change current management. Rather, it recognizes the wilderness characteristics of these lands which had not previously been assessed.
"Completing the objective assessment of on-the-ground conditions in the North Rosillos area of the park has long been a park goal and I appreciate the thorough work of the park staff," said Big Bend National Park Superintendent Bob Krumenaker. "This is an important step towards the possibility of Congress designating these lands as wilderness.”
In 1984, the Harte brothers donated their 67,135-acre North Rosillos ranch to the Nature Conservancy with the intent that the land would ultimately be incorporated into Big Bend National Park. In 1989 the Nature Conservancy fulfilled the brothers' wish by conveying the vast area of mountains and desert to the park. It was the single largest donation since the park was established in 1944.
Pursuant to the Wilderness Act of 1964, and in accordance with agency Management Policies, the National Park Service (NPS) completed a Wilderness Eligibility Assessment for the North Rosillos lands and concluded that 63,505 acres of the 67,135 acres are eligible. The section of land represents 7.9% of the park's total acreage. The remaining 3,630 acres do not meet the agency's wilderness eligibility criteria due to the presence of permanent roads, improvements, and/or developments that are critical to park operations.
NPS lands are considered eligible for wilderness designation if they possess the following characteristics, as identified in the Wilderness Act of 1964:
- The earth and its community of life are untrammeled by humans, where humans are visitors and do not remain.
- The area is undeveloped and retains its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation. T
- The area generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of humans' work substantially unnoticeable.
- The area is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.
- The area offers outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation.
Park partners, the public and local communities have expressed their love of the wide-open spaces, unrestricted views, rich wildlife habitat and amazing night skies of Big Bend National Park - all values that are key to a wilderness experience. There is a growing community interest and effort to raise awareness and fulfill the vision of previous generations at Big Bend National Park to assure permanent protection for the undeveloped lands of the entire park. The NPS has protected these lands from development for decades, and this effort will reduce uncertainty about the direction of future management as the park grows in popularity.
The North Rosillos area ranges in elevation from 2,600 feet in the desert to 5,373 feet at the windswept summit of Rosillos Peak. This is one of the least visited areas in Big Bend and solitude is easy to come by. Recreation opportunities include scenic driving the along the unpaved Terlingua Ranch Road, wildlife viewing, cross-country hiking and remote backpacking. The area has outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive, unconfined recreation. While the geology, wildlife, flora and cultural resources are similar to those found throughout much of Big Bend, this section of the park is unique in that it has a recent history of human use. The North Rosillos is a case study in Chihuahuan Desert ranchland recovery, giving the area significant ecological, scientific, educational and historical value.
The memorandum approving this determination will be published in the Federal Register on February 6, 2023. Combined with lands the NPS recommended to Congress for formal wilderness designation in 1978, now approximately 80% of Big Bend National Park is recommended, potential, or eligible for wilderness designation. The eligibility determination is the first step toward consideration of an area as wilderness. Consistent with NPS Management Policies, before a recommendation could be made to Congress on designating these lands as wilderness, NPS would need to conduct a formal wilderness study. As required by NPS Management Policies, the NPS will take no action that would diminish the wilderness eligibility of an area possessing wilderness characteristics until the legislative process of wilderness designation has been completed.
To view more details on wilderness management at Big Bend, including the Wilderness Eligibility Assessment for the North Rosillos area, please visit: https://www.nps.gov/bibe/learn/management/wilderness.htm.
Last updated: February 6, 2023