One Hundred And Ten Million Acres Couldn't Be Wrong

Part of a series of "Laws that Shaped L.A." This week: The Wilderness Act.

by Jeremy Rosenberg

If only every law was this poetic.

Conceived and drafted by a visionary conservationist who ran an environmental non-profit, the 1964 Wilderness Act reads in parts just as beautifully as some of the extraordinary vistas and water bodies and hiking trails that the Act so ably conserves.

"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape," the Act says in part, "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."

Here, let's try that again, with some added breaks:

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.

Okay, let's see you top that, Mike the Poet.

This unusually moving bit of legislative language wouldn't, however, wind up nominated as a Law That Shaped L.A. without having produced substantial results. And The Wilderness Act has indeed done just that -- and in an era when that wasn't necessarily a given.

"We are technologically a pretty amazing species," Daniel Rossman says. "Our ability to manipulate nature is profound."

Rossman is the Los Angeles-based regional associate for The Wilderness Society, a leading national environmental conservation organization -- and the group whose visionary leader was referred to at the top of this column.

"Equally profound," Rossman says, "is the idea that for some places -- those most special places -- we should not exercise that ability. We should leave them in their natural condition."

Enter, then, the Wilderness Act, Rossman and his colleagues' nomination as a Law That Shaped L.A.