Celebrating 45 years of the Wilderness Act

America's Wilderness spans magnificent lands from coast to coast — north to south. We can celebrate these outstanding natural benefits today — and be sure they will be available to us tomorrow — because forty-five years ago, our nation’s leaders introduced visionary legislation unlike any the world had ever seen: The Wilderness Act. A deliberate and farsighted effort to protect from development vast areas of wild places, the Wilderness Act preserves the lasting benefits of wilderness for the enjoyment of all Americans.

To help celebrate these lands and Wilderness Act we asked for your best original wildlands photos. You did not disappoint. Check out the top 45 photos below. The top five are presented first in order. All are fabulous and everyone that participated will help restore your belief in wild America. Read on below to find out more about the Wilderness Act and what you have helped protect with it.

Click on this Grand Prize winner - Yellowstone National Park by William Hacker - to start the show.

Click me to watch the slideshow.

2. Eagle at Aniakchak Bay in the Aniakchak National Monument and Preserve, Alaska. Photo by Buzz Hoffman.

3. Ramona Falls in Mt. Hood Wilderness, Oregon. Photo by Eli Boschetto.

4. Spring gales in Mini-Wakan State Park, Iowa. Photo by ruf_d.

5. Sunrise from Tennent Mountain Summit in the Shining Rock Wilderness, North Carolina. Photo by mherring.

Sage Creek Unit of Badlands National Park in South Dakota. Photo by Dick Krueger.

Bighorn Sheep rutting in Montana. Photo by eyeinthewild.com.

Bison Herd making way across flooded meadow in Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming. Photo by Scorpions and Centaurs.

Bitter lichen in Montana. Photo by eyeinthewild.com.

Blue Heron with small fish in Florida. Photo by starpower2001.

Bobcat and Moose in Montana. Photo by eyeinthewild.com.

Bull elk in Montana. Photo by eyeinthewild.com.

Cactus flower in bloom in the El Paso, Texas desert. Photo by Miranda Ross.

Canada Geese in snowstorm over Hottes Lake, Iowa. Photo by ruf_d.

Caterpillar in Colorado. Photo by Jason K. Bach.

Clouds and Water Lily. Photo by firegirl22.

Crab in Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Photo by deel34.

Ducks at Itasca State Park, Minnesota, the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Photo by ruf_d.

El Capitan at the end of Guadalupes, Texas. Photo by Darren Huski.

Flowers in Balboa Park, California. Photo by Milky Toast.

Golden Silk Spider at Sheldon Lake State Park, Texas. Photo by Theodore Scott.

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona. Photo by Jason K. Bach.

Great Horned Owl and chick. Photo by eileenfonferko.

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado. Photo by tchiakulas.

Hawaiian flower. Photo by Kryalab.

Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest, New Hampshire. Photo by Sandra Van Hoek.

Lily. Photo by Toki Wartooth.

Mississippi River sunset. Photo by ellephotography15.

Monarch butterfly hanging on milkweed blooms in Maryland. Photo by Melissa O'Neal.

Mountain Goat in the Mount Evans Wilderness Area, Colorado. Photo by rashires.

Denali in Alaska. Photo by hawghead56.

Palm Fronds. Photo by firegirl22.

Midland painted turtle in Maryland. Photo by Melissa O'Neal.

Redwood National Park, California. Photo by sharloch.

Rhododendron bursting to life in Roan Mountain State Park, Tennessee. Photo by wickedpasta.

Rough Legged Hawk photographed while hiking to site of the Great Falls portage, Montana. Photo by alsvider.

Sequoia National Park in California. Photo by lucinda88420.

Sprite Lake, The Enchantments in Washington's Alpine Lakes Wilderness. Photo by Eli Boschetto.

Strawberry Hedgehog Cactus in Ironwood Forest National Monument, Arizona. Photo by Murray Bolesta.

Sunrise in Haleakala National Park - the island of Maui, Hawaii. Photo by L. Napoli.

Sylvania Wilderness Area, Michigan. Photo by Jeff Rennicke.

The Narrows in Zion National Park, Utah. Photo by fbs1975.

Daisy with water droplets in Wisconsin. Photo by mattsxb.

Wild bull moose at Lake Isabella, Colorado. Photo by Jason K. Bach.

Sunrise near York, Maine. Photo by DeRonda Hastings.

The Wilderness Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System and protected the nation's first nine million acres of wilderness. Spectacular places like California's John Muir Wilderness, New Mexico's Gila Wilderness, Glacier Peak in Washington, and Idaho's Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness were among the first pristine, natural treasures given protection under the Act, which was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3, 1964.

President Johnson signs the Wilderness Act in 1964.Since 1935, The Wilderness Society has led the conservation movement in wilderness protection and, not surprisingly, our fingerprints are all over the Wilderness Act. In fact, the organization’s then president, Howard Zahniser, wrote the Act, which defines Wilderness and provides for its legislative protection. And The Wilderness Society played the lead role in working with Congress to pass the act.

Since then, The Wilderness Society and its members have put the Act into action, protecting wilderness and ensuring that present and future generations have an opportunity to enjoy the clean air, pure water, and abundant recreation opportunities wilderness provides.

Over the last four and a half decades, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to include more than 109 million acres. Last March, we witnessed one of the greatest expansions of the system in 15 years with the passage of the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. The Act designated over 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states and protected such emblematic treasures as California’s Sierra Nevada mountain range, Oregon’s Mt. Hood, Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park, and parts of the Jefferson National Forest in Virginia.

The Wilderness Act has preserved special wild places – but there is more to do.

Wildflowers and Mountain Eagle Lake in Wild Sky Wilderness. Photo by Steven Fey.Thanks to the Wilderness Act, some of America’s greatest wilderness landscapes are protected from sprawling development and other threats. In the lower 48 states, however, just 2.5 percent of our wild land is formally preserved as wilderness. And every year, there are fewer and fewer unspoiled wild places left.

Luckily, the Wilderness Act at 45 is as vibrant and vital as ever. The Wilderness Society and Americans from all walks of life continue to push for more wilderness protection in states including Alaska, Washington, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Idaho and Maine. (Stay tuned for more on our campaigns to protect some of our nation’s spectacular wild places like northern New Mexico’s El Rio Grand Del Norte.)

Whether you live in Washington State or Washington, D.C., the 45th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act is indeed an anniversary worth celebrating. These protected wild lands make our communities better places to live, give us clean air and water, and provide ecological resilience in the face of climate change. And, of course, they are also great places to seek solitude or to hike and camp and fish with our family and friends.

As John Muir said, "Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul." Today, let’s honor the Wilderness Act by upholding the American tradition of protecting wilderness and preserving wild places now and for future generations.

More ways to celebrate wilderness:

photo credits for the text:
President Johnson signs the Wilderness Act in 1964.
Wildflowers and Mountain Eagle Lake in Wild Sky Wilderness. Photo by Steven Fey.