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Death Valley National Park is the recipient of the National Park Service's Director's Wes Henry National Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship for "significant and long-term contributions to wilderness, in the park, in the community, and in the nation" according to Peggy O'Dell, Deputy Director for the National Park Service (NPS).
The Wes Henry National Wilderness Stewardship Award recognizes outstanding contributions to wilderness stewardship by an individual or group. Wes Henry dedicated his life to the preservation of wild lands. The former National Park Service Wilderness Program Manager was committed to finding innovative ways to educate others about the value of these special places.
Death Valley National Park contains the largest National Park designated wilderness area in the lower 48 states with 3.1 million acres, or 91% of its entire land base. The park was recognized for developing a sustainable wilderness management program to promote the stewardship of its wildernss resources through initiation and promotion of new wilderness management concepts, committee representation, and developmental opportunities. As a result, the park has developed several innovative wilderness products including a comprehensive draft wilderness stewardship plan, led by Sandee Dingman from Lake Mead National Recreation Area.
In addition, in collaboration with the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Institute, the park developed a GIS model to indicate wilderness character which was used to inform the wilderness planning effort.
The park contributes to wilderness leadership efforts at the national level as well. Superintendent Sarah Craighead is a representative on the NPS Wilderness Character Integration Team, assisting in the development of new standards for understanding wilderness character, and also is an invited speaker at the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center. Kelly Fuhrmann, the park's Chief of Resources Management, is a member of the NPS Wilderness Leadership Council, which provides guidance to the national wilderness stewardship program.
Congress has the sole authority to designate wilderness under the 1964 Wilderness Act. According to the Act, "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
Death Valley Wilderness was designated as part of the California Desert Protection Act in 1994.