What is Wilderness?

As pressure for development of federal lands increased, plans were made for more timber sales, mines, roads, campgrounds, and tourist hotels to meet rising demand. At the same time, conservationists saw the need for permanent protection of wild lands and began efforts to convince others. In many cases local citizens, seeing their nearby wilderness areas threatened with development, responded by forming coalitions that prompted their congressional delegations to favor legislation to protect remaining wilderness. This combination of contributing factors—threats of development, local constituencies of concerned citizens, sympathetic members of Congress, and national lobbying for legislative protection of wild lands--culminated with the passage of the Wilderness Act on September 3, 1964.

In passing the Wilderness Act Congress responded to the need for formal and permanent wild land preservation “…to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” For the past 50 years, citizens and lawmakers have been building this system of preserved federal lands as an investment in our country’s future. When the Wilderness Act became law, 54 areas in 13 states (9.1 million acres in total) were formally designated as wilderness. The National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) has grown to now include 762 areas covering nearly 110 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico.

Four federal land management agencies, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), U.S. Forest Service (FS), and National Park Service (NPS), under two federal departments—the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture—are responsible for managing the wilderness system (Table 1). Overall, the NWPS represents a small, but very important system of protected lands. Designated wilderness lands make up less than 5 percent of the lands of the United States, with 55% of these lands in Alaska. However, for most of the land management agencies, wilderness accounts for a substantial part of the overall land area they manage.

From: Tom Carlson et al. An Overview of America’s National Wilderness Preservation System in May 2016 Journal of Forestry