WASHINGTON - Thursday, September 3, marks the 45th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, landmark conservation legislation that allows citizens to work with Congress to protect America’s public land as wilderness.
When the Wilderness Act was signed into law on September 3, 1964, it immediately protected nine million acres, including such wild icons as the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, the Bob Marshall in Montana, and the John Muir Wilderness in California. Since that time, more than a hundred million additional acres of protected land have been added to the National Wilderness Preservation System. Still, just 2.5 percent of the land in the lower 48 states is formally preserved as wilderness, and much of the rest of our public lands remain open to development and extractive uses.
“The U.S. has lost much of its forests, farmlands, deserts, and other special areas to development and extractive uses over the past 45 years, but there remain wild and wonderful places that are unspoiled and unprotected,” said William H. Meadows, president of The Wilderness Society. “Protecting these places as wilderness ensures that we’ll have healthy air, clean water, places to hunt and to fish, habitat for wildlife, and great places to visit with our family and friends.”
According to The Wilderness Society, near-term priority areas for wilderness protection include Idaho’s Boulder White Clouds, New Mexico’s El Rio Grande Del Norte, California’s San Gabriel Mountains, Colorado’s San Juan Mountains, Washington’s Alpine Lakes and Maine’s Coastal Islands.
“Last March, Congress protected more than 2 million acres of wilderness,” said Meadows. “Health care and the economy might be dominating national headlines, but preserving treasured natural places for our children and grandchildren can also stand as a lasting legacy for this Congress. These places have long been a vital element of our national character and their protection has become increasingly important to local economies.”