What is Wilderness 50?

50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act

In order to recognize the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act that was signed by President Johnson on September 3, 1964, I am sending out a series of emails designed to celebrate the event and some of the spectacular landscapes that are protected by this landmark piece of legislation.  Wilderness is a uniquely American concept that is, quite honestly, not enjoyed quite the same in most of the rest of the world.  Wilderness protection is at the core of the Sierra Club and the work we do.  Is is the founding principal of John Muir who started the Club in 1892 to protect the Yosemite Valley and surrounding area.  Wilderness is still the soul of our work.

Wilderness is like the canary in the coal mine.  (Appropriate that I use this metaphor since it is my family that helped start the Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign that has already stopped over 150 coal plants from being built and gained the shut down or commitment for the shut down of 30% of the current fleet in the US.)  If our wilderness areas are compromised, what will become of the rest of our planet and all the living creatures who depend on it for our survival?

Beyond the fresh water, air, wildlife protection and recreation opportunities that Wilderness provides (which is, by the way, a $646 billion business here in the US supporting about 6.1 million American jobs), wilderness provides a place for spiritual renewal that those who travel there immediately understand and is priceless and should be available for all to experience.

In this regard, I will be sending around excerpts from my wilderness journals spanning a period from 1977 to 2013 along with photos from the areas where I was hiking, paddling or skiing when I wrote that particular passage.  I hope you will enjoy them and gain a new or reinvigorated passion for what we’ve already saved that will motivate you to insure their ongoing protection and passion to add even more to the system.

Wilderness: 50 Years and Counting

On September 3, 1964 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Wilderness Act. This historic bill established the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and set aside an initial 9.1 million acres of wildlands for the use and benefit of the American people. Over the past 50 years, and as a result of America’s support for wilderness, Congress has added over 100 million acres to this unique land preservation system. The 1964 Wilderness Act defines “Wilderness” as areas where the earth and its communities of life are left unchanged by people, where the primary forces of nature are in control, and where people themselves are visitors who do not remain.

The NWPS was established for the use and enjoyment of the American people and provides many direct and in-direct benefits, such as those relating to ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic, spiritual, economic, recreational, historical, and cultural uses and activities. The 757 wilderness areas within the NWPS are managed by all four federal land managing agencies, the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service. To learn more about the Wilderness Act and the NWPS, visit http://www.wilderness.net, the official wilderness information website providing both general information about wilderness and specific information about each of the 757 wilderness areas.

In 2014, our nation will celebrate “50 Years of Wilderness” and this website has been created to document this historical commemoration honoring America’s “True American Legacy of Wilderness.” A national team, called Wilderness50, has been created to plan educational events, projects, programs, and products to raise awareness of wilderness during the 50th anniversary year. This website provides a map and listing of all local, regional, and national 50th anniversary events that are occurring nation-wide, including the National Wilderness Conference. It also provides access to resources for individuals or community groups interested in hosting a 50th anniversary event.

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