Taming the Wilderness

America’s Most Protected Lands Aren’t as Safe as You Think

When Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act in 1964 it was the first law of its kind in the world. It was a progressive notion, indeed, for an industrious, civilized country to protect large areas of roadless, resource-rich land for the sole purpose of keeping it uncivilized and theoretically, as wild as when Europeans still believed the Earth was flat.

Upon its creation 30 years ago, the Act’s National Wilderness Preservation System designated about nine million acres of federal land as Wilderness. Since then, some 87 million acres have been added to bring the total to 96 million acres—roughly four percent of all U.S. lands (two percent in Alaska.) Like precious jewels locked in a safe, these last remnants of undeveloped backcountry are forever to remain places “where the Earth and its community are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor.”