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President Johnson Signs the Wilderness Act … 9/03/1964

“If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them something more than the miracles of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.”

—President Lyndon B. Johnson

Upon signing the Wilderness Act into Law

September 3rd 1964

NATIONAL WILDERNESS PRESERVATION SYSTEM

The National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) was established by Congress in 1964 upon passage of the Wilderness Act (Public Law 88-577).

Congress enacted this policy to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness. 

John Muir Wilderness - Inyo National Forest
John Muir Wilderness – Inyo National Forest
SELF PRESERVATION?

Lands designated for protection by the Wilderness Act are lawfully managed for permanent preservation in a natural state and condition. This means prohibition of new residential and industrial developments, including the construction of new roads, mining speculations, and timber cutting. The use of motorized vehicles and mechanical equipment, including bicycles and mountain bikes, is also strictly forbidden.

The Wilderness Act essentially removes the lands designated for protection, from the standard “multiple use” land managing policy used throughout the national public lands system in the United States. Removal of NWPS designated lands from “multiple use” results in prohibition of many activities which can cause permanent damage to the wild character of the land.

LAND USE RESTRICTIONS

Use restrictions enacted for lands protected by the Wilderness Act, are a necessary means to sustain lasting preservation of the wild characteristics inherent to the turf and terrain designated. Protected regions of the earth to be left free from the ongoing disturbances, influences, and ground altering forces capable of modern technology and tools. Preserving the inherent natural features, wild characteristics, and innate beauties of the original ecological course of action set forth by Mother Nature herself.

By it’s own definition, the Wilderness Act made poetic use of the English language to describe wilderness:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own 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.”

THE WILDERNESS ACT OF 1964: Section 2 (c)

Wilderness Act designation fundamentally safeguards the lives and processes of the resident inhabitants of the land itself, our native wildlife species. This allows the course and processes of wild plants, animals, fungi, and other native life to continue unimpeded, without large scale disruptions and disturbances caused by modern human innovations.

Map of the National Wilderness Preservation System Extent, Contiguous United States
Wildernesses Designated into the National Wilderness Preservation System indicated by Shade Locations
WILDERNESS MANAGEMENT

Regions designated into the National Wilderness Preservation System are managed to permanently preserve the ecological forces natural to the land itself. These lands become legally protected from large-scale systematic disruptions and modifications the human species has become capable of causing to the land through the modern innovation of various tools and technologies.

As of 2020, 111+ million acres of national public lands have been designated for preservation as wilderness. The system is owned collectively by all U.S. citizens and is managed for the American People by either one of four, federal public land managing agencies :

→ Forest Service (FS)

National Park Service (NPS)

Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)

Bureau of Land Management (BLM)

The managing agency assigned to each individual wilderness unit designated, depends upon the location and type of natural ecosystem inherent to the landscape.

#1

FOREST SERVICE

(FS)

 

United States Department of Agriculture

The FS essentially sticks to managing wilderness designated inside the bounds of either a National Forest or National Grassland.

#2

NATIONAL PARK SERVICE

(NPS)

United States Department of the Interior

The NPS manages a varied assortment of wilderness ecological systems, from the rainforests in Olympic National Park, to the vast deserts found in Death Valley California. Wildernesses managed by the NPS are usually exceptionally high in scenic and ecological value.

#3

FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE

(FWS)

United States Department of the Interior

The FWS manages lands established to protect habitat for our nation’s native wildlife species. Wilderness regions becoming designated onto those lands that are within the bounds of our National Wildlife Refuge System, are managed by the FWS.

 

#4

BUREAU OF LAND MANAGEMENT

(BLM)

United States Department of the Interior

The BLM manages wilderness regions designated on public lands throughout various western states, which are otherwise not located on lands already established as a National Forest, a National Park, or a National Wildlife Refuge.

Map of the National Wilderness Preservation System Extent in Alaska
Extent of the National Wilderness Preservation System in Alaska Map
Note: Alaska is massive and encompasses over 50% of all lands designated into the NWPS

FACTS & FIGURES

NATIONAL WILDERNESS PRESERVATION SYSTEM FOOT PRINT

→ 111,687,310 million acres (As of 2021)

LARGEST DESIGNATED WILDERNESS

→ Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness in Alaska with 9,078,675 acres.

SMALLEST DESIGNATED WILDERNESS

→ Pelican Island Wilderness, Florida, 5 acres.

MOST WILDERNESS ACREAGE IN ONE STATE

→ Alaska with over 57 million total acres. Including over 52% of all land designated among all 50 states.

TOTAL NUMBER OF INDIVIDUAL WILDERNESS UNITS

→ 803 individual wildernesses have been designated into the National Wilderness Preservation System (2021)

WHICH AGENCY MANAGES THE MOST WILDERNESS UNITS?

→The Forest Service with 448 individual wilderness units. (2021)

WHICH AGENCY MANAGES THE MOST WILDERNESS ACERAGE?

→ The National Park Service with 44,337,407 acres.(2021)

STATES WITH THE MOST WILDERNESS ACRES

Alaska – 57,757,130 acres

California – 15,348,149 acres

Idaho – 4,795,700 acres

Arizona- 4,512,066 acres

Washington – 4,484,466 acres

MOST INDIVIDUAL WILDERNESS UNITS

California – 154 Units

Arizona – 90 Units

Nevada – 70 Units

Utah – 51 Units

Alaska – 48 Units

The designation of protected wilderness preserves and sustains the existing natural ecological condition of the region as designated, ensuring the native values of the land remain intact. The objective is to preserve the wild qualities of the landscape, protecting the inherent natural values of the region for it’s future use and enjoyment as wilderness.

Lands designated by Congress into our national system to preserve ecologically intact wilderness landscapes, are lawfully excluded from the use of modern tools and technologies, which might otherwise damage or reduce the wild character of the land itself.

Selway-Bitterrort Wilderness – Clearwater National Forest

WILDERNESS ACT BECOMES THE LAW OF THE LAND

SEPTEMBER 3RD 1964

Public Law 88-577 (16 U.S.C. 1131-1136)

88th Congress, Second Session

The Wilderness Act defined 54 individually separate wilderness areas, totaling 9.1 million acres of lands designated for preservation in a wild and natural condition, when the law was passed by Congress in 1964. The Wilderness Act also established rules and processes for adding additional lands to the newly created, National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). In the 50+ years since the Wilderness Act was passed, more than 100 million additional acres have been added to the NWPS.

President Johnson and Alice Zahniser at Wilderness Act Signing (widow of Howard Zahniser)

“The wilderness bill preserves for our posterity, for all time to come, 9 million acres of this vast continent in their original and unchanging beauty and wonder.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson Remarks Upon Signing the Wilderness Act, September 3rd 1964
Howard Zahniser

Howard Zahniser

The Wilderness Act was written by Howard Zahniser. Zahniser worked on finalizing the written text for the final law, including various revisions for over eight years. A member of the Wilderness Society and eventually Executive Director, Zahniser essentially established the precedent for permanent wilderness protections in the United States.

Zahniser died a few months before the act was eventually passed by Congress in 1964. Still, Zahniser’s life and legacy continue to live on through the enacted legal protections he crafted for the land.

“I believe that at least in the present phase of our civilization we have a profound, a fundamental need for areas of wilderness – a need that is not only recreational and spiritual but also educational and scientific, and withal essential to a true understanding of ourselves, our culture, our own natures, and our place in all nature.”

“This need is for areas of the earth within which we stand without our mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment – areas of wild nature in which we sense ourselves to be, what in fact I believe we are, dependent members of an interdependent community of living creatures that together derive their existence from the Sun.”

“By very definition this wilderness is a need. The idea of wilderness as an area without man’s influence is man’s own concept. Its values are human values. Its preservation is a purpose that arises out of man’s own sense of his fundamental needs.”

– Howard Zahniser
From the Need of Wilderness Areas
The Wilderness Act of 1964
Public Law 88-577

"To establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole poeple, and for other purposes."
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11 months ago

[…] Complex encompasses three neighboring wilderness areas that have been designated into the National Wilderness Preservation System in the United States. The entirety of the complex encompasses 1.5+ million acres of public lands, […]

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10 months ago

[…] Tags:Public Lands Stewardship Wilderness Preservation Next PostThe Original State of Discovery Project: “Take a Hike” Established […]

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10 months ago

[…] place of wilderness consists of the congressionally designated lands included within our modern day National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). Wilderness is also inclusive of equivalent lands that haven’t been sanctioned in the system, […]