The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” and “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and in-fluence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.” There are currently 803 designated Wilderness areas, totaling 111,987,310 acres, or about 5% percent of the area of the United States.
The following conditions must general-ly be present for an area to be included in the National Wilderness Preservation System:
- the land is under federal ownership and management
- the area consists of at least 5,000 acres of land
- human influence is “substantially unnoticeable
- there are opportunities for solitude and recreation
- the area possesses “ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.”
The Gila Wilderness in southwestern New Mexico was the world’s first designated Wilderness area, created on June 3, 1924. It’s ironic that the state where Wilderness got its start now is lagging behind in total acres of Wilderness created.
Through the Wilderness Act, Congress recognized the intrinsic value of wildlands. Some of the tangible and intangible values mentioned in the Wilderness Act include “solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation,” as well as “ecological, geo-logical, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.” Wilderness areas provide habitat for wildlife and plants, including endangered and threatened species.