Coloradans celebrate 45th Anniversary of Wilderness with an eye toward future

White River National Forest, Colorado. Courtesy USFS.

“What I want to speak for is not so much the wilderness uses, valuable as those are, but the wilderness idea, which is a resource in itself…” With those words, Wallace Stegner launched his impassioned defense of wilderness in his Wilderness Letter, written in 1960. This was four years before the Wilderness Act and creation of the National Wilderness Preservation System, which forever empowered Americans with the legislative means to protect our most pristine public lands.

As conservationists across the country mark the 45th anniversary of the Wilderness Act and celebrate the protection of over 109 million acres of wilderness to date, I encourage readers to take a moment to reflect on the idea of Wilderness itself — as an inextricable part of the “geography of hope” described by Stegner, a Pulitzer-prize winning writer and former member of The Wilderness Society’s Governing Council.

Here in Colorado, we are uniquely positioned to understand the connection between the idea of wild lands and our ideals as a nation — the promise of the West was always synonymous with the unconstrained nature of the land itself and the building of our national character.

We in Colorado are lucky to still have some of that western land of promise left. This year alone, through the efforts of The Wilderness Society and our partners, Rocky Mountain National Park and Dominguez Canyons Wilderness were permanently protected from future development, added to the National Wilderness Preservation System. These lands become our “wilderness bank,” which Stegner believed would be the only way to connect our present to our past.

In keeping with this vision, conservation groups across Colorado are working together to protect additional at-risk public lands. We have three ongoing campaigns that welcome your involvement:

  • The San Juan Mountains Wilderness Proposal includes public lands in the rugged southwestern portion of Colorado. Encompassing some of the most spectacular yet vulnerable wild country in the region, we are hopeful that the recent San Juan Mountain Wilderness Act drafted by Congressman John Salazar will soon be introduced.
  • The Hidden Gems Wilderness Campaign is seeking designation of major new wilderness additions in the White River National Forest region and nearby Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands. These scenic forests and meadows not only provide popular backcountry recreation but also provide drinking water to communities across the state.
  • Colorado’s Canyon Country Wilderness Proposal is the result of over 20 years of citizen groups inventorying and working to protect remaining wild, spectacular BLM lands across the state. These sometimes little-known areas are oases for wildlife, providing crucial winter range for big game animals, cradling fragile desert ecosystems, and providing homes for many sensitive and threatened species.

In our struggle to preserve the geography that blends our hopes for the future with the unbounded promise of our past, the Wilderness Act is one of our most powerful assets. I invite you to celebrate 45 years of Wilderness by taking the time to experience some of Colorado’s wild country! And then join us in trying to save some more of it.

“The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and
what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the
preservation of the World.”
— Henry David Thoreau, Walking