Taken from my blog post on 9/3/14
There are TONS of folks enjoying Wilderness regularly that aren't aware what is actually means. An area designated as a Wilderness Area (simplified to not take into account exceptions and special provisions that do exist):
-prohibits motor/mechanized use including but limited to: aircraft, motor boats, cars, motorbikes, bicycles, strollers, wheelbarrows, hang-gliders, chainsaws, power tools.
-is without permanent improvements...so no building or development allowed, no new mining claims, no commercial logging etc.
So if you like places without roads and development....you like Wilderness! Wilderness Areas are managed by a variety of different agencies: National Parks, Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Fish and Wildlife Service. So for example where I work, all of our district is Forest Service land but only a small portion within that Forest Service land is protected as Wilderness. About 5% of the land in the US is protected as Wilderness in over 700 different Wilderness Areas.
After the depression area Work Projects Administration developed tons of new roads and trails and then came the post-WWII area of driving and recreating. It then became apparent that our desire to build and develop into pristine areas needed to be harnessed.
President Lyndon B. Johnson after signing the act: "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."
These are places not only where we can go to enjoy undeveloped environments, but places that are essential to protecting the clean air and water we need and perhaps most importantly, places where we can let ecosystems live out their processes. I am very very grateful for it and really excited to have gotten to spend my first season on the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act in the Hoover Wilderness, one of the original areas designated under 1964 act.
Full text of the Wilderness Act:
(b) The inclusion of an area in the National Wilderness
Preservation System notwithstanding, the area shall continue to be
managed by the Department and agency having jurisdiction thereover
immediately before its inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation
System unless otherwise provided by Act of Congress. No appropriation
shall be available for the payment of expenses or salaries for the
administration of the National Wilderness Preservation System as a
separate unit nor shall any appropriations be available for additional
personnel stated as being required solely for the purpose of managing or
administering areas solely because they are included within the
National Wilderness Preservation System.
DEFINITION OF WILDERNESS
(c) 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
NATIONAL WILDERNESS PRESERVATION SYSTEM -- EXTENT OF SYSTEM
Sec. 3. (a) All areas within the national forests classified at least
30 days before September 30, 1964, by the Secretary of Agriculture or
the Chief of the Forest Service as "wilderness", "wild", or "canoe" are
hereby designated as wilderness areas. The Secretary of Agriculture
(b) The Secretary of Agriculture shall, within ten years
after September 30, 1964, review, as to its suitability or
nonsuitability for preservation as wilderness, each area in the national
forests classified on September 3, 1964, by the Secretary of
Agriculture or the Chief of the Forest Service as "primitive" and report
his findings to the President. The President shall advise the United
States Senate and House of Representatives of his recommendations with
respect to the designation as "wilderness" or other reclassification of
each area on which review has been completed, together with maps and a
definition of boundaries. Such advice shall be given with respect to
not less than one-third of all the areas now classified as "primitive"
within three years after September 3, 1964, not less than two-thirds
within seven years after September 3, 1964, and the remaining areas
within ten years after September 3, 1964. Each recommendation of the
President for designation as "wilderness" shall become effective only if
so provided by an Act of Congress. Areas classified as "primitive" on
September 3, 1964, shall continue to be administered under the rules and
regulations affecting such areas on September 3, 1964, until Congress
has determined otherwise. Any such area may be increased in size by the
President at the time he submits his recommendation to the Congress by
not more than five thousand acres with no more than one thousand two
hundred and eighty acres of such increase in any one compact unit; if it
is proposed to increase the size of any such area by more than five
thousand acres or by more than one thousand two hundred and eighty acres
in any one compact unit the increase in size shall not become effective
until acted upon by Congress. Nothing herein contained shall limit the
President in proposing, as part of his recommendations to Congress, the
alteration of existing boundaries of primitive areas or recommending
the addition of any contiguous area of national forest lands
predominantly of wilderness value. Not withstanding any other provisions
of this Act, the Secretary of Agriculture may complete his review and
delete such area as may be necessary, but not to exceed seven thousand
acres, from the southern tip of the Gore Range-Eagles Nest Primitive
Area, Colorado, if the Secretary determines that such action is in the
(c) Within ten years after September 3, 1964, the Secretary
of the Interior shall review every roadless area of five thousand
contiguous acres or more in the national parks, monuments and other
units of the national park system and every such area of, and every
roadless island within, the national wildlife refuges and game ranges,
under his jurisdiction on September 3, 1964, and shall report to the
President his recommendation as to the suitability or nonsuitability of
each such area or island for preservation as wilderness. The President
shall advise the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of
Representatives of his recommendation with respect to the designation
as wilderness of each such area or island on which review has been
completed, together with a map thereof and a definition of its
boundaries. Such advice shall be given with respect to not less than
one-third of the areas and islands to be reviewed under this subsection
within three years after September 3, 1964, not less than two-thirds
within seven years of September 3, 1964, and the remainder within ten
years of September 3, 1964. A recommendation of the President for
designation as wilderness shall become effective only if so provided by
an Act of Congress. Nothing contained herein shall, by implication or
otherwise, be construed to lessen the present statutory authority of the
Secretary of the Interior with respect to the maintenance of roadless
areas within units of the national park system.
(d) (1) The Secretary of Agriculture and the Secretary of the
Interior shall, prior to submitting any recommendations to the
President with respect to the suitability of any area for preservation
as wilderness --
(e) Any modification or adjustment of boundaries of any
wilderness area shall be recommended by the appropriate Secretary after
public notice of such proposal and public hearing or hearings as
provided on subsection (d) of this section. The proposed modification
or adjustment shall then be recommended with map and description thereof
to the President. The President shall advise the United States Senate
and the House of Representatives of his recommendations with respect to
such modification or adjustment and such recommendations shall become
effective only on the same manner as provided for in subsections (b) and
(c) of this section.
USE OF WILDERNESS AREAS
Sec. 4. (a) The purposes of this Act are hereby declared to be within
and supplemental to the purposes for which national forests and units
of the national park and national wildlife refuge systems are
established and administered and --
(b) Except as otherwise provided in this Act, each agency
administering any area designated as wilderness shall be responsible for
preserving the wilderness character of the area and shall so administer
such area for such other purposes for which it may have been
established as also to preserve its wilderness character. Except as
otherwise provided in this Act, wilderness areas shall be devoted to the
public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational,
conservation, and historical use.
PROHIBITION OF CERTAIN USES
(c) Except as specifically provided for in this Act, and
subject to existing private rights, there shall be no commercial
enterprise and no permanent road within any wilderness area designated
by this Act and, except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for
the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act (including
measures required in emergencies involving the health and safety of
persons within the area), there shall be no temporary road, no use of
motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motorboats, no landing of
aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or
installation within any such area.
(d) The following special provisions are hereby made:
STATE AND PRIVATE LANDS WITHIN WILDERNESS AREAS
Sec. 5. (a) In any case where State-owned or privately owned land is
completely surrounded by national forest lands within areas designated
by this Act as wilderness, such State or private owner shall be given
such rights as may be necessary to assure adequate access to such
State-owned or privately owned land by such State or private owner and
their successors in interest, or the State-owned land or privately owned
land shall be exchanged for federally owned land in the same State of
approximately equal value under authorities available to the Secretary
of Agriculture: Provided, however, That the United States shall not
transfer to a state or private owner any mineral interests unless the
State or private owner relinquishes or causes to be relinquished to the
United States the mineral interest in the surrounded land.
(b) In any case where valid mining claims or other valid
occupancies are wholly within a designated national forest wilderness
area, the Secretary of Agriculture shall, by reasonable regulations
consistent with the preservation of the area as wilderness, permit
ingress and egress to such surrounded areas by means which have been or
are being customarily enjoyed with respect to other such areas similarly
(c) Subject to the appropriation of funds by Congress, the
Secretary of Agriculture is authorized to acquire privately owned land
within the perimeter of any area designated by this Act as wilderness if
(1) the owner concurs in such acquisition or (2) the acquisition is
specifically authorized by Congress.
GIFTS, BEQUESTS, AND CONTRIBUTIONS
Sec. 6. (a) The Secretary of Agriculture may accept gifts or bequests
of land within wilderness areas designated by this Act for preservation
as wilderness. The Secretary of Agriculture may also accept gifts or
bequests of land adjacent to wilderness areas designated by this Act for
preservation as wilderness if he has given sixty days advance notice
thereof to the President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of
Representatives. Land accepted by the Secretary of Agriculture under
this section shall become part of the wilderness area involved.
Regulations with regard to any such land may be in accordance with such
agreements, consistent with the policy of this Act, as are made at the
time of such gift, or such conditions, consistent with such policy, as
may be included in, and accepted with, such bequest.
(b) The Secretary of Agriculture or the Secretary of the
Interior is authorized to accept private contributions and gifts to be
used to further the purpose of this Act.
Sec. 7. At the opening of each session of Congress, the Secretaries
of Agriculture and Interior shall jointly report to the President for
transmission to Congress on the status of the wilderness system,
including a list and descriptions of the areas in the system,
regulations in effect, and other pertinent information, together with
any recommendations they may care to make.
Approved September 3, 1964.
Full text of the Wilderness Act:
Public Law 88-577 (16 U.S. C. 1131-1136)
88th Congress, Second Session
September 3, 1964
88th Congress, Second Session
September 3, 1964
To establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
Section 1. This Act may be cited as the "Wilderness Act".
(1) Within one year after September 30, 1964, file a map and legal description of each wilderness area with the Interior and Insular Affairs Committees of the United States Senate and the House of Representatives, and such descriptions shall have the same force and effect as if included in this Act: Provided, however, That correction of clerical and typographical errors in such legal descriptions and maps may be made.
(2) Maintain, available to the public, records pertaining to said wilderness areas, including maps and legal descriptions, copies of regulations governing them, copies of public notices of, and reports submitted to Congress regarding pending additions, eliminations, or modifications. Maps, legal descriptions, and regulations pertaining to wilderness areas within their respective jurisdictions also shall be available to the public in the offices of regional foresters, national forest supervisors, and forest rangers.
(A) give such public notice of the proposed action as they deem appropriate, including publication in the Federal Register and in a newspaper having general circulation in the area or areas in the vicinity of the affected land;
(B) hold a public hearing or hearings at a location or locations convenient to the area affected. The hearings shall be announced through such means as the respective Secretaries involved deem appropriate, including notices in the Federal Register and in newspapers of general circulation in the area: Provided, That if the lands involved are located in more than one State, at least one hearing shall be held in each State in which a portion of the land lies;
(C) at least thirty days before the date of a hearing advise the Governor of each State and the governing board of each county, or in Alaska the borough, in which the lands are located, and Federal departments and agencies concerned, and invite such officials and Federal agencies to submit their views on the proposed action at the hearing or by not later than thirty days following the date of the hearing.
(2) Any views submitted to the appropriate Secretary under the provisions of (1) of this subsection with respect to any area shall be included with any recommendations to the President and to Congress with respect to such area.
(1) Nothing in this Act shall be deemed to be in interference with the purpose for which national forests are established as set forth in the Act of June 4, 1897 (30 Stat. 11), and the Multiple Use Sustained-Yield Act of June 12, 1960 (74 Stat. 215).
(2) Nothing in this Act shall modify the restrictions and provisions of the Shipstead-Nolan Act (Public Law 539, Seventy-first Congress, July 10, 1930; 46 Stat. 1020),the Thye-Blatnik Act (Public Law 733, Eightieth Congress, June 22, 1948; 62 Stat. 568), and the Humphrey-Thye-Blatnik-Andersen Act (Public Law 607, Eighty-fourth Congress, June 22.1965; 70 Stat. 326), as applying to the Superior National Forest or the regulations of the Secretary of Agriculture.
(3) Nothing in this Act shall modify the statutory authority under which units of the national park system are created. Further, the designation of any area of any park, monument, or other unit of the national park system as a wilderness area pursuant to this Act shall in no manner lower the standards evolved for the use and preservation of such park, monument, or other unit of the national park system in accordance with the Act of August 25, 1916, the statutory authority under which the area was created, or any other Act of Congress which might pertain to or affect such area, including, but not limited to, the Act of June 8, 1906 (34 Stat. 225; 16 U.S.C. 432 et seq.); section 3(2) of the Federal Power Act (16 U.S.C. 796 (2) ); and the Act of August 21,1935 (49 Stat. 666; 16 U.S.C. 461 et seq.).
(1) Within wilderness areas designated by this Act the use of aircraft or motorboats, where these uses have already become established, may be permitted to continue subject to such restrictions as the Secretary of Agriculture deems desirable. In addition, such measures may be taken as may be necessary in the control of fire, insects, and diseases, subject to such conditions as the Secretary deems desirable.
(2) Nothing in this Act shall prevent within national forest wilderness areas any activity, including prospecting, for the purpose of gathering information about mineral or other resources, if such activity is carried on in a manner compatible with the preservation of the wilderness environment. Furthermore, in accordance with such program as the Secretary of the Interior shall develop and conduct in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, such areas shall be surveyed on a planned, recurring basis consistent with the concept of wilderness preservation by the Geological Survey and the Bureau of Mines to determine the mineral values, if any, that may be present; and the results of such surveys shall be made available to the public and submitted to the President and Congress.
(3) Not withstanding any other provisions of this Act, until midnight December 31, 1983, the United States mining laws and all laws pertaining to mineral leasing shall, to the extent as applicable prior to September 3, 1964, extend to those national forest lands designated by this Act as "wilderness areas"; subject, however, to such reasonable regulations governing ingress and egress as may be prescribed by the Secretary of Agriculture consistent with the use of the land for mineral location and development and exploration, drilling, and production, and use of land for transmission lines, waterlines, telephone lines, or facilities necessary in exploring, drilling, producing, mining, and processing operations, including where essential the use of mechanized ground or air equipment and restoration as near as practicable of the surface of the land disturbed in performing prospecting, location, and , in oil and gas leasing, discovery work, exploration, drilling, and production, as soon as they have served their purpose. Mining locations lying within the boundaries of said wilderness areas shall be held and used solely for mining or processing operations and uses reasonably incident thereto; and hereafter, subject to valid existing rights, all patents issued under the mining laws of the United States affecting national forest lands designated by this Act as wilderness areas shall convey title to the mineral deposits within the claim, together with the right to cut and use so much of the mature timber therefrom as may be needed in the extraction, removal, and beneficiation of the mineral deposits, if needed timber is not otherwise reasonably available, and if the timber is cut under sound principles of forest management as defined by the national forest rules and regulations, but each such patent shall reserve to the United States all title in or to the surface of the lands and products thereof, and no use of the surface of the claim or the resources therefrom not reasonably required for carrying on mining or prospecting shall be allowed except as otherwise expressly provided in this Act: Provided, That, unless hereafter specifically authorized, no patent within wilderness areas designated by this Act shall issue after December 31, 1983, except for the valid claims existing on or before December 31, 1983. Mining claims located after September 3, 1964, within the boundaries of wilderness areas designated by this Act shall create no rights in excess of those rights which may be patented under the provisions of this subsection. Mineral leases, permits, and licenses covering lands within national forest wilderness areas designated by this Act shall contain such reasonable stipulations as may be prescribed by the Secretary of Agriculture for the protection of the wilderness character of the land consistent with the use of the land for the purposes for which they are leased, permitted, or licensed. Subject to valid rights then existing, effective January 1, 1984, the minerals in lands designated by this Act as wilderness areas are withdrawn from all forms of appropriation under the mining laws and from disposition under all laws pertaining to mineral leasing and all amendments thereto.
(4) Within wilderness areas in the national forests designated by this Act, (1) the President may, within a specific area and in accordance with such regulations as he may deem desirable, authorize prospecting for water resources, the establishment and maintenance of reservoirs, water-conservation works, power projects, transmission lines, and other facilities needed in the public interest, including the road construction and maintenance essential to development and use thereof, upon his determination that such use or uses in the specific area will better serve the interests of the United States and the people thereof than will its denial; and (2) the grazing of livestock, where established prior to September 3, 1964, shall be permitted to continue subject to such reasonable regulations as are deemed necessary by the Secretary of Agriculture.
(5) Other provisions of this Act to the contrary notwithstanding, the management of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area, formerly designated as the Superior, Little Indian Sioux, and Caribou Roadless Areas, in the Superior National Forest, Minnesota, shall be in accordance with the general purpose of maintaining, without unnecessary restrictions on other uses, including that of timber, the primitive character of the area, particularly in the vicinity of lakes, streams, and portages: Provided, That nothing in this Act shall preclude the continuance within the area of any already established use of motorboats.
(6) Commercial services may be performed within the wilderness areas designated by this Act to the extent necessary for activities which are proper for realizing the recreational or other wilderness purposes of the areas.
(7) Nothing in this Act shall constitute an express or implied claim or denial on the part of the Federal Government as to exemption from State water laws.
(8) Nothing in this Act shall be construed as affecting the jurisdiction or responsibilities of the several States with respect to wildlife and fish in the national forests.
Approved September 3, 1964.