The Wilderness Society celebrates its 79th birthday (and looks to the Wilderness Act’s 50th)

Photo: Hiking in Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness.

Credit: flickr, Jesse Varner.

As The Wilderness Society gears up for the 50th anniversary of its signature policy cause, the Wilderness Act of 1964, the organization also marks the 79th anniversary of its founding on Jan. 21.

In January of 1935, Amelia Earhart was an international celebrity; gasoline cost 11 cents per gallon; the St. Louis Cardinals were recent victors of the first corporate-sponsored World Series; and the first canned beer in America went on sale to the general public. 

It was an era of firsts, not only for beer, baseball and aviation, but for wilderness conservation. That month, a collection of foresters, writers and nature enthusiasts formed The Wilderness Society.

Seventy-nine years ago, their beliefs—namely, that development had limits and wild places needed to be protected—were as outré as zoot suits are today. Many Americans imagined their country’s wilderness to be inexhaustible and saw no real need to limit incursion into it. The task ahead was great.

Luckily, The Wilderness Society’s founders were a veritable all-star team. These included Robert Marshall, a writer and fierce conservationist; Aldo Leopold, who had earlier convinced the U.S. Forest Service to officially protect wilderness for the first time (and would later author the seminal A Sand County Almanac); and Benton MacKaye, the “father of the Appalachian trail.” The group they helped form would endure through decades of change, emerging as the nation’s leading public lands conservation group.

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Photo: Aldo Leopold. Credit: flickr, U.S. Forest Service Region 5.

Since then, we have led the effort to protect nearly 110 million acres of wilderness in 44 states.  From the revolutionary 1964 Wilderness Act to the landmark 2009 Public Lands Omnibus bill that protected more than two million acres of wilderness across the country, we have been involved in almost every major wilderness initiative.

As Bob Marshall famously wrote, "There is just one hope for repulsing the tyrannical ambition of civilization to conquer every niche on the whole earth. That hope is the organization of spirited people who will fight for the freedom of the wilderness." Indeed, our work has only begun. With the help of spirited people like you, The Wilderness Society will fight to protect those remaining wild niches for many years to come.

Learn more about 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act.