American flag at fire lookout tower in Arizona's Kendrick Mountain Wilderness.
There are many unique American qualities to celebrate during our Independence Day. One is our nation’s legacy of protecting wild lands.
In 1964, the United States enacted the Wilderness Act, a pioneering law that initially protected about 9 million acres of national forest lands across the country. The law also created a process for citizens to propose more areas to be protected, thereby placing the responsibility to protect America’s most incredible lands to the people of the United States. The Wilderness Act set a gold standard for conservation in our country - and across the world.
Today America’s National Wilderness Preservation System is the largest national system of highly protected areas worldwide. U.S. Wilderness represents over a third of wilderness across the globe, according to the World Database on Protected Areas (WDPA).
The WDPA is a project of the United Nations Environment Programme and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN has identified seven categories of protected areas based upon the way they are managed which form a global standard for defining these areas. One of these categories is wilderness, which is defined as a natural area with limited human disturbance.
Here are the top five nations that protect wilderness areas - and the years those nations passed national legislation:
- United States - 566,683 sq km protected (about two times the size of the state of Nevada) - Wilderness Act of 1964
- Canada - 341,898 sq km (about two times the size of the state of Florida) - Canada Wildlife Act of 1985 and Migratory Birds Convention Act of 1994
- Botswana - 104,008 sq km (about the size of the state of Kentucky) - Wildlife Conservation and National Parks Act of 1992
- Mongolia - 41,850 sq km (about two times the size of the state of New Jersey) - Law on Special Protected Areas of 1995
- Australia - 37,133 sq km (about two times the size of the state of Connecticut) - Wilderness Act of 1987
Click on the map below to compare land protection in the U.S. to other countries: (data courtesy of WDPA)
Working to protect wild lands is patriotism at its best. By doing so, America provides its citizens places to bolster their mental and physical wellbeing. These places also provide economic benefits to local communities—approximately $646 billion is generated by outdoor recreation nationwide. Wilderness also protects wildlife diversity, which is even more crucial in the face of climate change.
"Wild places, from parks and national forests, to monuments and wilderness, are a big part of what makes this country unique," wrote Wilderness Society Jamie Williams in a recent op-ed. "Our country is the proud architect of the largest wilderness preservation system in the world, which celebrates its 50th birthday this year. Thanks to the foresight of the authors of the Wilderness Act, every American has a right to enjoy and play a part in protecting our natural and cultural heritage."
For the next 50 years and beyond, The Wilderness Society will continue to help Americans advocate for our wild places—for ours and for future generations. Join us in continuing to lead the world in protecting our great outdoors.