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 Legislative Decision Making

     The title of the Wilderness Act (PL 88-577) described the goal of passing the legislation: “to establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people” (Wilderness Act, 1964). In the Act, Congress also reserved the right to make all final decisions regarding future proposals seeking to modify the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS).

The result is an American wilderness system presumed to be held in perpetuum, considering a congressional act of repeal would be required to undo the protections mandated by the Wilderness Act. This mechanism provides Congress exclusive authority to make boundary alterations regarding established wilderness, in addition to having the final decision amidst any proposal seeking to declassify a previous NWPS designation.

     A policy that reserves the ultimate authority to Congress concerning final NWPS decisions, has largely been a positive development for permanent wilderness protections in the years since 1964. It eventually took eight years of dedicated work in Congress to pass the original Wilderness Act into law. The process of passing new congressional legislation isn’t ordinarily considered simple, and generally required some level of bipartisan support throughout most of American history.  

     However, developing escalations that produce a state of increased polarization within American politics, fundamentally threaten the existing paradigm. A potential breakdown in the “legislative shield” that protects existing lands designated within the NWPS, is entirely possible in today’s increasingly contentious political environment (Bogardus, 2004).

Forthcoming proposals seeking to remove various policies directly contributing to the wilderness idea, and in the same manner to weaken the extent of the NWPS, are plausible in every respect with consideration to the present conditions. Accompanying the threats over the possibility of future legislative acts intended to dismantle the Wilderness Act, various proposals have already been submitted for Congressional review that put the integrity of the NWPS in jeopardy.


Bogardus, K. (2004). The politics of energy: Oil and gas. Washington D.C.: The Center For Public Integrity. https://www.publicintegrity.org/2003/12/15/3147/politics-energy-oil-and-gas

Wilderness Act, 78 Stat. 890. (US Congress September 3, 1964).

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