Thursday, October 17, 2013

Fifty Years of Wilderness

1964:  The Beatles released their first album; Plans to build the World Trade Center in New York were announced; the Vietnam war was beginning to escalate; Dr. Martin Luther King won a Nobel Peace Prize and President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act.

On September 4, Johnson signed another significant bill into law – a bill that took 60 drafts and eight years to pass through Congress: the Wilderness Act of 1964.  

Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the act.

Written by Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society as the culmination of a long national, grassroots effort to protect what remained of our nation’s wild places, the Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which has since grown to nearly 110 million acres of wilderness managed by four agencies in 44 states and Puerto Rico.

The Wilderness Act succinctly and poetically defines wilderness as:

“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.”

President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Wilderness Act
With its roots dating back to 1910 – an extension of the conservation policies put in place by the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt -- three U.S. Forest Service employees were pivotal in pushing forth the concept of setting aside lands as wilderness: Bob Marshall, Arthur Carhart and Aldo Leopold

"For unnumbered centuries of human history the wilderness has given way. The priority of industry has become dogma,” wrote Leopold. “Are we as yet sufficiently enlightened to realize that we must now challenge that dogma, or do without our wilderness?"

Zahniser put it this way: “I believe that at least in the present phase of our civilization we have a profound, a fundamental need for areas of wilderness - a need that is not only recreational and spiritual but also educational and scientific, and withal essential to a true understanding of ourselves, our culture, our own natures, and our place in all nature.” 

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