A Celebration of Wilderness

It's a time for celebration! Jan 21, 2015 marks the 80th anniversary of The Wilderness Society. This is a wonderful chance to celebrate all that you have helped us achieve for wilderness since 1935 and remind Americans of all that we can achieve in the next 80 years.

2015 marks the 80th anniversary of The Wilderness Society. See some of what we have done to protect wilderness and other wildlands. (Photo: Soda Mountain Wilderness (Oregon) Credit: BLM, flickr.)

1924-02-01 00:00:00

New Mexico's Gila Wilderness created

Ecologist Aldo Leopold, The Wilderness Society co-founder, spearheads the designation of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico. In a 1921 article asserting America’s need for wilderness, Leopold offered his criteria for wilderness areas – “a continuous stretch of country preserved in its natural state, open to lawful hunting and fishing, big enough to absorb a two weeks’ pack trip, and devoid of roads, artificial trails, cottages, or other works of man.” Gila Wilderness became the nation’s first such federally designated area, the prototype for what would eventually become a system of wilderness areas.

1930-02-01 00:00:00

First campaign for a national wilderness system

Bob Marshall leads the campaign for a national system of wilderness areas. As a result, more than 14 million acres of “primitive areas” are established within national forests.

1935-02-04 00:00:00

The Wilderness Society Established

Since opening its doors in 1935, The Wilderness Society has worked to protect the millions of acres of public lands that all Americans own. Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall and Robert Sterling Yard were among its founders. The Wilderness Society has contributed to historic moments in the national conservation movement, helping to pass dozens of wilderness bills. Our work was instrumental in passing the 1964 Wilderness Act, which establish the National Wilderness Preservation System.

1940-08-16 01:37:18

Bob Marshall Wilderness protected by Forest Service

In 1939, The Wilderness Society co-founder Bob Marshall died at the age of 39. It was a tragedy, but he had already made his mark in the world of public lands conservation. It was with this legacy in mind that Agriculture Secretary Henry A. Wallace established the 950,000-acre Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana. The wilderness now covers more than 1 million total acres, making it the fifth largest in the continental U.S., and is considered an icon of the National Wilderness Preservation System.

1945-03-01 00:00:00

Howard Zahniser joins Wilderness Society leadership

In 1945, Howard Zahniser joined The Wilderness Society, first serving as executive secretary and editor of the organization’s magazine The Living Wilderness, and later as the organization’s executive director.

1949-01-01 17:03:47

“A Sand County Almanac” published

The Wilderness Society co-founder Aldo Leopold’s opus, published posthumously, made a case for the sanctity of wild places and outlined the idea of the “land ethic,” a concept of extending mankind’s community to plants, animals and even the earth itself. It became one of the iconic books on nature and the environment, and has been reprinted around the world.

1950-03-01 00:00:00

Howard Zahniser successfully blocks Echo Park Dam construction

Howard Zahniser leads an unprecedented fight against a proposed dam that would have stopped the flow of the Green and Yampa rivers in the middle of Dinosaur National Monument. The Echo Park Dam was part of a Bureau of Reclamation proposal issued in 1949 that aimed to build a substantial hydroelectric project in the national monument as part of the Upper Colorado River Storage Project. In 1955 the issue was resolved and the dam was not built. The Echo Park Dam represents the beginning of an era of major conservation wins that gave us the Wilderness Act, the Clean Air Act and the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, among others.

1956-02-01 00:00:00

Wilderness Act Drafted

Howard Zahniser writes the first draft of the Wilderness Act in 1956 to protect some of the nation’s remaining wilderness. The bill would take another 8 years to pass. Once it did, it created our National Wilderness Preservation System.

1964-09-03 00:00:00

Wilderness Act signed into law

After eight years and 66 revisions, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law on Sept. 3, 1964. The act created the National Wilderness Preservation System and immediately put 9.1 million acres into that system, including Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness, permanently protecting them as designated wilderness. Tragically, Howard Zahniser, who drafted the first Wilderness Act in 1956, passed away just months before his bill was signed into law.

1968-02-01 00:00:00

First U.S. Fish and Wildlife wilderness created

The first U.S. Fish and Wildlife wilderness area is designated: Great Swamp Wilderness in New Jersey. Up until this point, all wilderness areas had been created on national forests.

1968-10-02 14:38:48

Wild and Scenic Rivers Act signed

The Wild & Scenic Rivers Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson to protect exceptional American waterways for future generations, culminating a process driven (and applauded) by The Wilderness Society. Nearly 50 years later, it has protected more than 200 rivers and remains as important as ever. In fact, the Wild & Scenic Rivers Act is often used in tandem with the Wilderness Act—together they make up the strongest dual protections that can be bestowed on American lands and waters.

1968-10-02 14:38:48

National trails network established

The Wilderness Society played a major role in advocating for a complex of scenic, historic and recreational trails across the country, and The National Trails System Act created just that, with the Appalachian and Pacific Crest Trails the first to fall under its jurisdiction. This bill, the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and others represented an admirable record on conservation issues for the 90th Congress.

1970-02-01 00:00:00

Earth Day created by Senator Gaylord Nelson

Sen. Gaylord Nelson, former counselor to The Wilderness Society, helps create Earth Day, adding official support to environmental consciousness. Its official celebration is April 22, but the many threats wilderness is facing make it critical to declare every day Earth Day.

1970-02-01 00:00:00

First National Park Service Wilderness Created

The first wilderness areas within National Park Service sites are designated: Craters of the Moon National Wilderness Area in Idaho and Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area in Arizona.

1972-02-01 00:00:00

First citizen-proposed wilderness areas created

The first two wilderness areas proposed by citizens are designated: Scapegoat Wilderness in Montana and an addition to the Eagle Cap Wilderness in Oregon.

1975-02-01 00:00:00

Enactment of the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act

Enactment of the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act designating 16 national forest wilderness areas in 13 eastern states. Until passage of this law, virtually all wilderness areas were designated in the west.

1976-09-03 00:00:00

Federal Land Policy and Management Act passed

Passage of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, which directed the Bureau of Land Management for the first time to inventory the public lands it manages for their wilderness qualities, and to take steps to protect their wilderness values.

1976-10-22 16:13:46

Setting standards for national forests

Passage of the National Forest Management Act required land management plans for national forests and grasslands--at the time, a huge step forward. On signing it into law, President Gerald Ford praised the bill as “the product of diverse and often conflicting interests.” The law required the government to involve the public in forest planning as well as developing (and following) plans for how to manage land resources in each national forest.

1979-02-01 00:00:00

Millions of acres of National Forest System lands considered for wilderness

The Forest Service completes its Roadless Area Review and Evaluation II (RARE II) process, which inventoried tens of millions of acres of National Forest System lands for their wilderness suitability. Congress subsequently designated millions of acres of National Forest System lands as wilderness based on this initiative and other information. The Wilderness Society was an integral part of the effort to enact the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act, and to the RARE II process.

1980-02-01 00:00:00

56 million acres of new wilderness created

The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) designates 56 million acres of new wilderness. The statute protected over 100 million acres of federal lands in Alaska, doubling the size of the country’s national park and refuge system and tripling the amount of land designated as wilderness. ANILCA expanded the national park system in Alaska by over 43 million acres, creating 10 new national parks and increasing the acreage of three existing units.

1980-12-19 16:13:46

Aldo Leopold Wilderness protected

Legislation passed to protect a parcel of National Forest land in honor of the late The Wilderness Society cofounder Aldo Leopold. Nearly 60 years prior, Leopold himself had spearheaded the protection of what became Gila Wilderness, in the Gila National Forest, immediately to the west.

1981-09-03 00:00:00

Wilderness areas opened up for oil and gas drilling

Interior Secretary James G. Watt authorizes the issuance of oil and gas leases in wilderness areas, exploiting a loophole in the 1964 statute that allowed leasing in Wilderness areas until 1984. Congress responds by passing legislation prohibiting oil and gas leasing in designated Wilderness areas.

1983-02-01 00:00:00

First Bureau of Land Management wilderness created

The Bear Trap Canyon unit of the Lee Metcalf Wilderness in Montana becomes the first wilderness on Bureau of Land Management lands.

1987-09-03 00:00:00

Congress prohibits oil and gas leasing within Wilderness Study Areas

Congress passes the Onshore Oil and Gas Leasing Reform Act, which among other things prohibits oil and gas leasing within Bureau of Land Management Wilderness Study Areas.

1988-09-03 00:00:00

President Reagan vetoes the Montana Wilderness Act

President Ronald Reagan vetoes the 1.4 million-acre Montana Wilderness Act, the only time a President has ever vetoed a wilderness bill. On the other hand Reagan signed into law bills designating more than 10.6 million acres of wilderness.

1990-11-28 16:13:46

Tongass Timber Reform Act passed

After years of hard work by The Wilderness Society and other groups, this law protected more than 1 million acres in Alaska’s Tongass National Forest, including 300,000 acres of new wilderness, while repealing some antiquated elements of a federal logging program. The law protected habitat for grizzly bears, eagles and other wildlife, as well as preserving old-growth forest and scenic landscapes.

1994-03-01 00:00:00

California Desert Protection Act of 1994 is passed by Congress

The California Desert Protection Act greatly expands national parks in the California desert and designates 7.7 million acres of new wilderness areas.

1997-10-19 16:13:46

Law unifies National Wildlife Refuge System

Signed into law by President Bill Clinton, the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act, championed by The Wilderness Society, finally governed that our refuges be managed in a unified way, with a singular mission and common understanding of what outdoor recreation is allowed on U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service land. Today, there are more than 560 national wildlife refuges nationwide, protecting (and in some cases restoring) about 150 million acres as habitat for thousands of species, many threatened or endangered.

2001-03-01 00:00:00

National Roadless Rule established

Under the Clinton Administration, the U.S. Forest Service adopts the national Roadless Rule, which protects 58 million acres of unspoiled forests from road building, commercial logging and mining. Many of these roadless areas harbor wilderness characteristics.

2005-02-01 00:00:00

First wilderness in a U.S. territory created

The 10,000-acre El Toro Wilderness in Puerto Rico becomes the first wilderness area in a U.S. territory.

2009-02-01 00:00:00

Wilderness system expanded under sweeping public lands bill

The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 was passed in the 111th United States Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama. The scope of the bill cannot be cannot be overstated: Nine states, 2.1 million acres of wilderness, landmark protection for over one million acres of wild landscapes in the Wyoming Range, and the designation of four national conservation areas and a national monument. It also formally establishes the National Landscape Conservation System, the first new system of conservation lands in more than half a century.

2012-02-01 00:00:00

Wilderness champions continue the fight

Despite an anti-wilderness Congress intent on giving wild lands away to development interests, conservation-minded members of the 112th Congress introduce more than 2 dozen bills to protect wilderness areas. Congress fails to pass the bills in 2013, making them the first Congress in 40 years not to pass a single wilderness bill.

2012-09-03 00:00:00

Sleeping Bear Dunes becomes first new wilderness protected in five years

With the passage of a bill in the House March 4, Congress protects more than 32,500 acres of Michigan's Sleeping Bear Dunes. By designating this landscape as wilderness wilderness, Congress endows it the highest level of protection accorded any piece of public land. Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness would include portions of two islands, forests, miles of beach and spectacular sand dunes rising hundreds of feet above the only Great Lake contained entirely within the U.S. This marks the first new wilderness Congress has created in five years, breaking the drought of wilderness protections.

2013-03-01 00:00:00

America witnesses the worst Congress for wilderness

Worst Congress for wilderness. The 112th Congress becomes the first Congress in forty years to fail to protect even a single acre of wilderness. More than 25 wilderness bills languish in the House of Representatives.

2014-09-03 00:00:00

50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act

In 2014, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the landmark Wilderness Act, thanks to which Americans now own 110 million acres of protected wilderness areas from coast to coast. As we celebrated, The Wilderness Society continued to fight for the protection of magnificent places to expand and enhance the diversity of America’s wilderness legacy.

A Celebration of Wilderness

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