The Wilderness Act At Age 44

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Is the salvation of our natural souls tied to the preservation of wilderness? And if it is, must we actually travel into the wilderness to achieve its benefits, or is it simply enough to know wilderness exists? As the Wilderness Act turns 44, how much has it done to protect nature?

An ancillary question, of course, is whether only officially designated wilderness meets the bill, or whether de facto wilderness is just as beneficial a salve?

Enacted September 3, 1964, the Wilderness Act (attached below) was written by Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society. Its passage created the National Wilderness Preservation System 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, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness."

Congress's intentions certainly were good, but how successful where they? Forty-four years later we've set aside more than 106 million acres of officially designated wilderness. That sounds somewhat impressive, until you realize the United States spans 2,379,400,323.67 acres. Too, while 44 million of the 106 million wilderness acres are found within the borders of national parks, there are hundreds of thousands of more acres within the park system that meet wilderness qualities but which are not preserved officially as wilderness.

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