5 things we're thankful for in 2014

This Thanksgiving and holiday season there are so many things for wilderness lovers to be thankful for - in addition to the 758 designated wilderness areas covering nearly 110 million acres of American wild lands. Here's a few at the top of our list:

1) 50 years of wilderness protections

It almost goes without saying, but we’re thankful for the 1964 Wilderness Act, which established the National Wilderness Preservation System and protects nearly 110 million acres of wild places. We’re thankful for leaders like Howard Zahniser, who wrote the language that would become the Wilderness Act, and for congressional leaders like Rep. John Dingell (Mich.), who is the last Member of Congress still in office who voted to pass the bill. We’re also grateful for the nation’s newest wilderness, Michigan’s Sleeping Bear Dunes!

photo: Sleeping Bear Dunes. credit: Flickr, AmySelleck.

2) Newly protected wild places

Speaking of Sleeping Bear Dunes, it is the first designated wilderness in over five years! But that isn’t the only new wild place that is enjoying permanent protection. This year we saw several new national monuments created by President Obama, including New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks, the expanded Pacific Rim Islands National Monument, and most recent, the San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in southern California! We’re thankful for these wild places, the peace and solitude they offer, and the permanent protection they now enjoy.

photo: Organ Mountains. credit: Flickr, mypubliclands (Bob Wick, BLM California).

3) Our public land stewards

All wilderness areas are on national public lands, and it’s the men and women that work for agencies like the Bureau of Land Management, the U.S. Forest Service, and others that are the front line for keeping our wild spaces open, free of invasive species, and safe. Being a land manager for the BLM, Forest Service, National Park Service, or Fish and Wildlife Service is a difficult and often thankless job. Shrinking budgets, legal mandates, tough decisions, and (sadly) threats of violence are an everyday part of the job. But we’re thankful these men and women are out there serving as dedicated guardians of our wild places.

photo: rangers in Mount Rainier National Park. credit: Flickr, Mount Rainier NPS.

4) Conservation-minded Presidents

President Theodore Roosevelt signed the Antiquities Act 108 years ago, allowing presidents to protect public lands as national monuments. Since then, presidents of both parties have protected some of America’s most iconic landscapes, from the Grand Canyon (originally a national monument before it became a national park) to the Statue of Liberty. And 50 years ago, President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act and the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act, protecting millions of acres and making it possible to protect many more through national park expansions, wildlife refuges, and urban parks. Anyone who loves wildlands should be thankful for these, and many other, conservation-minded Presidents.

photo: President Johnson signing the Wilderness Act with Alice Zahniser and Mardy Murie.

5) You, Our Members and Donors

That’s right, you. You’ve helped us celebrate 50 years of the Wilderness Act. You’ve shown us your wild side, sharing your photos and videos on our #WeAreTheWild page. You've contacted your members of Congress, land agencies, and even the President himself to urge them to protect America’s wild landscapes. Some of you have volunteered on stewardship crews to maintain hiking trails; others have made your voices heard in town halls across the country. You’re the reason we’re here, fighting for our shared wilderness, and it’s your passion and your generosity that keeps us going. We especially thank our members and donors who sign petitions and support us thru the year to make sure we have the capacity to make these victories a reality.

photo: hikers in Soda Mountain Wilderness/Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument. credit: Flickr, BLMOregon.

Thank you! And Happy Thanksgiving.