Environmental Heritage: Happy 49th Birthday To The Federal Wilderness Act Of 1964

The federal Wilderness Act of 1964 was written by Tionesta, Pennsylvania native Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society, and established the legal definition of wilderness in the United States.

The result of a long effort to protect federal wilderness and to create a formal mechanism for designating wilderness, the Wilderness Act was signed into law 49 years ago today by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3, 1964 after over sixty drafts and eight years of work by Zahniser and many others.

The Wilderness Act is well known for its succinct and poetic definition of wilderness:

“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.”

When President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, it created America's National Wilderness Preservation System which encompasses lands managed by the U.S. Forest Service (such as in the Allegheny National Forest), the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.

The initial wilderness areas designated in the Act comprised 9.1 million acres of national forest lands. After more than 100 separate pieces of wilderness legislation, passed in almost every session of Congress since 1964, the current status of the NWPS totals 757 units and more than 109 million acres in 44 states.

(Reprinted from the Friends of Allegheny Wilderness.)


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