Rocky Mountain iris in alpine meadow in Columbine Hondo in northern New Mexico.
September has always been a critical month for America’s wild lands. The Wilderness Act was signed into law on September 3, 1964 and National Public Lands Day falls at the end of September.
And now, for a fourth consecutive year, September is National Wilderness Month, as decreed by President Obama in a proclamation.
Wilderness is a “made in America” concept that is unique to our country. The United States boasts nearly 110 million acres of wilderness that are owned by every American. Wilderness protects clean drinking water and healthy air for surrounding communities and people near and far enjoy wilderness for its unparalleled recreation experiences.
As President Obama said in his proclamation:
“Today, our wilderness areas reflect an essential part of our national character, and as a people, we are immeasurably richer for their presence… Our open spaces are more precious today than ever before, and it is essential that we come together to protect them for the next generation.”
While this year’s National Wilderness Month is a celebration of America’s unique public estate, it is also a reminder of Congress’ unfinished business. Currently, there are 27 wilderness designation bills pending in Congress. These bills have been carefully crafted by various individuals and groups on-the-ground and enjoy bipartisan support within the community and in Congress.
While we celebrate National Wilderness Month this year, and gear up for the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in 2014, the current Congress is on track to become the second Congress since the Wilderness Act became law to protect not one single acre of wilderness.
When the Wilderness Act passed during the 88th Congress in 1964, over 9 million acres of wilderness were protected. While the next Congress did not designate any wilderness, every Congress since then has done so – until now. Unless Congress acts this year, the 112th Congress will go down as one of the most anti-wilderness Congresses in history.
During this National Wilderness Month, as we are facing unprecedented challenges, we can’t lose sight of all that we have to celebrate. While wilderness may be under siege in Congress, around the country it’s a much different story. Every day, millions of people are inspired by our wild places, and support protecting our great outdoors. At The Wilderness Society, we will continue the fight for our wild places, during National Wilderness Month and throughout the year. We are committed to inspiring more Americans to help protect our natural heritage for the generations to come.