Why Wilderness?

As we become a more urbanized society with growing needs for space and energy, we often turn to wilderness as a resource. Yet, wilderness is not just a resource to be developed. It has many human, natural and economic benefits that we need to protect.

Wilderness belongs to you

Guess who owns 618 million acres of American wildlands? You.

You own red-rock canyons and turquoise rivers. Desert plains and jagged mountain peaks. You own Arctic tundra, southern wildflower fields and cool northern forests. All these iconic wild places are part of your "great American backyard."

Photo: Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington. flickr, Jeff Pang

Not all federal wildlands are "wilderness." Wilderness is a type of protection given to the most pristine wildlands — areas within national parks, forests, recreation areas and other wildlands where there are no roads or development. This officially designated wilderness is the last remnant of the wild landscapes that once stretched from coast to coast.

See a slideshow of some our our nation's designated wilderness areas:

Today, only about 110 million acres of true wilderness remain as part of the 618 million acres of federal wildlands. At The Wilderness Society, we're working to preserve these wild places and to designate new areas that qualify for wilderness protection.

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It's a place to enjoy

Photo: Denali National Park, Alaska. By NPS, Alex Vanderstuyf

Wilderness is a haven from the pressures of our fast-paced society. It provides us with places where we can seek relief from the noise, haste and crowds that too often confine us. It is a place for us to enjoy with friends and families — strengthening our relationships and building lasting memories.

For adventurers, it offers endless opportunities for outdoor recreation. In wilderness, we can walk and hike, watch wildlife, camp, fish and many other activities. This kind of recreation in the wild has countless proven benefits to our health and wellbeing.

Yet, each year as we grow more and more connected through technology, we grow less and less connected with wilderness.

View info-graphic


It's a home for wildlife

Photo: Grizzly bear in Wrangell-St. Elias wilderness, Alaska. NPS

Wilderness is a vital habitat for wildlife. In addition to providing wildlife with a home, wilderness also provides migration routes and breeding grounds for many kinds of animal species. When wilderness is fragmented and developed, these animals are threatened.

In the web-of-life, wilderness helps to preserve a wide variety of natural life forms and contributes to more diverse plant and animal gene pools. More than half of the ecosystems in the United States exist within designated wilderness.

Without designated wilderness, it would be virtually impossible to ensure the protection of species.


It's an economic engine and a way of life

For many people who live near wilderness, it contributes to their local economy and way of life.

Wild places are a great source of economic activity, especially in the rural communities that surround them. Outdoor recreation contributes more than $646 billion annually to the economy, supports 6.1 million jobs and generates nearly $80 billion in federal, state and local taxes.

In wild places like Alaska, native populations also rely on wilderness and the wildlife within it for subsistence.

When our society threatens wilderness, we threaten local people’s livelihood and cultural traditions.

Photo: Rafting Idaho's wild and scenice Middle Fork Salmon River. By: Northwest Rafting Company


It cleans our air and water

Wilderness areas protect watersheds that provide drinking water to many cities and rural communities. It helps improve the quality of our air. When wilderness is threatened, so is its ability to improve these essential elements.

Few of us live close to a designated wilderness area, yet many of us are connected to them every day. Each time we breathe air or drink water, we benefit from our wild places.


It's a source of clean, renewable energy

Rich renewable energy resources found on our federal wildlands — like wind energy and solar energy — play a key role in powering our future. These clean energy sources help stop global warming and provide alternatives to fossil fuels.

But in developing renewable energy on federal wildlands, we shouldn’t sacrifice sensitive wildlands and wildlife habitat. By choosing the right places and methods for developing clean energy, we can ensure our environment and local economies stay healthy.


It's a natural laboratory

Wilderness provides us with a place to study and learn more about our natural world. Without designated wilderness, we would know very little about issues affecting the health and vibrancy of our wildlands, our wildlife and ourselves.

Wilderness also is a place where we can study the impacts of human-caused issues, such as climate change. Our vast unspoiled stretches of national forests can act as a buffer against climate change, slowing warming trends by absorbing harmful greenhouse gases.  But climate change also has real, observable effects — threats like catastrophic wildfire, invasive species and an increased risk of disease.

When we have access to wilderness, where we can study these effects, we are better equipped to address and prevent them.


It's an American legacy

Since the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, Congress has designated nearly 110 million acres of federal wildlands as official wilderness. Official wilderness has the highest form of protection of any federal wildland.

Today, about 235 million acres of federal wildlands have been permanently protected as wilderness, parks, refuges or other protected areas. But that’s only a third of our public lands. And about 100 million acres of pristine wildlands are still at risk. These wildlands could qualify for future protection, but the window of opportunity is closing fast.

At Wilderness, we're working to protect these 100 million pristine federal wildlands within the next 20 years, before development fragments what remains. If we don't protect these last remaining wild places now, they could be lost forever.

Photo: John Muir Wilderness, California. NPS


It's yours to protect

You can help protect wilderness and ensure it remains safe for generations to come.

  • Neil Shader

    A report on landscape-based mitigation released by the Interior Department Energy and Climate Change Task Force, “A Strategy for Improving the Mitigation Policies and Practices of The Department of the Interior,”  provides a blueprint for better protection for fish, wildlife, recreation and wild land values for the tens of millions of acres of public lands open to oil and gas and other energy development.

  • Michael Reinemer

    This weekend, veterans from around the West will be visiting the rolling, boulder-strewn landscape of the Dragoon Mountains south of Tucson to participate in a writing workshop that will guide them on skills needed to create narratives of fiction, non-fiction, or poetry that is informed both by their service experiences and the natural environment.

  • Neil Shader

    The following statement on the confirmation of Neil Kornze to be the Director of the Bureau of Land Management can be attributed to Jamie Williams, president of The Wilderness Society.