The Wilderness Society Turns 80: a message from President Jamie Williams

Photo: Colorado's Indian Peaks Wilderness and hundreds of other wilderness areas are enjoyed by thousands of Americans every year, thanks to The Wilderness Act, the work of our predecessors and supporters like you. Photo by Steven Bratman.

Celebrating wilderness and asking Congress to protect more

By Jamie Williams, President of The Wilderness Society

January is an important month for us this year. Not only are we celebrating the 80th anniversary of The Wilderness Society, we’re also welcoming a new Congress to Washington.

As we celebrate our legacy, The Wilderness Society is calling on the new Congress to protect more wildlands, remembering that wilderness isn’t just part of our anniversary story—it’s part of the American story.

After all, what could be more American than family camping trips to Yellowstone, or school outings to learn about America’s cultural history at one of our many national monuments?

Throughout the 80 years of our history, conservation has proved again and again to be a bi-partisan issue. Americans on all sides of the political spectrum care about our magnificent wild areas and, as polls indicate, they want to see them preserved.

The 114th Congress has a chance to help protect the best of America—including unspoiled places from the Arctic Refuge in Alaska to Tennessee’s Cherokee National Forest. 

While our previous Congress was mired in gridlock, they were able to set aside their partisan differences to provide protections for more than 1 million acres of wildlands. We expect no less from the 114th Congress. 

Help us ask Congress to protect at least as many wild acres—if not more—than the last Congress.

Leaving a better America for future generations

Upon The Wilderness Society’s founding on Jan. 21, 1935, our nation’s wildlands were viewed largely for use by timber, mining and other development. Large swaths of America’s forests had already been devoured by industry. Conservation was a novel concept.

Our founders were among the first to recognize that wilderness was not limitless. These visionaries, including men such as Robert Marshall and Aldo Leopold formed The Wilderness Society as a means to protect a small portion of America’s last wild lands, a radical idea at the time.

They were intent on leaving a better America for their children and grandchildren—for all of us. And that’s what they did.

As The Wilderness Society became one of the pillars of the budding conservation movement, we fought for a national preservation system that would allow Americans to protect their wildest lands. And in 1964, we were triumphant with the passage of the Wilderness Act. The act created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which has grown to protect 110 million acres of wilderness from coast to coast.

The Wilderness Society has played a role in every major addition to the wilderness system, and over the decades we have protected millions of acres of precious wildlands and waters as national monuments, wild and scenic rivers, and other designations. We’ve also held the line against inappropriate oil and gas drilling and other development in our most sensitive wild areas while guiding renewable energy to smart places where sensitive habitats are out of harm’s way.

Today, we are deeply grateful to supporters like you who have helped us carry on the legacy of our founders. 

Your support helps bolster the national belief that our nation’s wildlands are not just places to use and exploit. They are places where we can still find a bit of quiet, places that cleanse our souls and remind us of our unique American heritage.

We can all be a part protecting the best that America has to offer, by letting the new Congress know that wilderness is America.

Let Congress know that true patriotism means protecting the best of America – not just the ideas our country was founded on, but the land we were founded upon as well.

Take Action

Sign our petition to the Republican and Democratic leadership of the House and Senate.

Ask them to protect more our America’s great wild places.


Photos: 1) John Muir Wilderness by NPS. 2)  Founders of The Wilderness Society, including Aldo Leopold (third from left), were crucial to the advancement of The Wilderness Act in Congress. Photo via United State Forest Service, Region 5.