On September 3, 1964, after 8 years of effort by conservationists, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act. The 1964 Wilderness Act provides the highest level of protection for some of our most iconic, wild landscapes through wilderness designation. This historic bill established the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and set aside an initial 9.1 million acres of wilderness and called for further studies and public involvement on potential additions. Over the subsequent years, as a result of citizen campaigns throughout the United States, Congress has added over 111 million acres to this unique land preservation system. The current 803 (as of 2022) wilderness areas within the NWPS are managed by all four U.S.A. federal land managing agencies, the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service. We celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in 2014. The system continues to grow: 37 new wilderness areas in California, New Mexico, Oregon, and Utah were designated on March 12, 2019 by the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act. Unfortunately, some academics trapped by “indoor philosophy,” and now many social justice advocates, who should know better, argue that wilderness is an antiquated idea that ignores the fact that people lived in those places, regarding wild nature “as a transcendent realm apart from the Native people who inhabited those realms.” Close examination reveals that this “Big Lie About Wilderness” is a literary/philosophical construct little related to the Real Wilderness Idea that conservationists have used to establish the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness has never meant “unpeopled” - the Wilderness Act very carefully used the much more accurate term: “untrammeled.” Here are some essays which further correct this “big lie”:
- Criticizing Muir and misunderstanding the foundation of American nature conservation by Bruce A. Byers (October 22, 2021)
- Wilderness and Traditional Indigenous Beliefs: Conflicting or Intersecting Perspectives on the Human-Nature Relationship?
By Roger Kaye, Polly Napiryuk Andrews, and Bernadette Dimientieff in Rewilding Earth (December 8, 2021)
- Reclaiming Wilderness: It Tells Us Who We Are, and We Lose It at Our Peril by Kenneth Brower (June 4, 2014)
- The Real Wilderness Idea by Dave Foreman (May, 1999)
- For more information: