1964: Wilderness Act
Signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3, 1964, the Wilderness
Act designated all previously existing Wild Areas, Canoe Areas, and Wilderness Areas
as Wilderness. At the time, these areas on national forests totaled 9.1 million
acres and represented the entire National Wilderness Preservation System.
Approximately 5.5 million acres of Primitive Areas (established by the L-20 Regulation)
were to be reviewed by the Secretary of Agriculture, who would then make recommendations
for inclusion as Wilderness within ten years. By 1979, 23 of the 34 Primitive Areas
had been designated as Wilderness by Congress.
In addition to creating the National Wilderness Preservation System--which now includes
wilderness areas on national forests, national parks, national wildlife refuges,
and Bureau of Land Management lands--the Wilderness Act shifted authority for wilderness
designations from the land management agencies, such as the Forest Service, to Congress.
In its own words, the Wilderness Act sought to, "assure that an increasing
population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does
not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving
no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition..."
Along with its substantive provisions, the Wilderness Act also offered a definition
of wilderness that continues to influence philosophical and legal debates on the
Congress determined, "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man
and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where
the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is
a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean
in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character
and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected
and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears
to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's
work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude
or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand
acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and
use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological,
or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value."
"Briefing on Primitive Areas in the National Forest System,"
Statement of M. Rupert Cutler, Assistant Secretary for Conservation, Research, and
Education, U. S. Department of Agriculture, Before Subcommittee on Public Lands
of the Committee on Interior and Insular Affairs, U.S. House of Representatives,
July 24, 1979.
Public Law 88-577, 88th Congress, S. 4, September 3, 1964.