Signing Ceremony Kicks Off Celebration of 50th Anniversary of Wilderness Act

President Johnson

President Johnson's Remarks at the signing of the Wilderness Preservation Act:

Land Management Agencies, Conservation Leaders Vow to Spotlight this American Resource

The 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act celebration kicked off today as federal land management agency leaders and conservation groups agreed to work together in the months leading up to the actual anniversary—September 2014—to raise awareness of the benefits and values of wilderness.

The formal memorandum of understanding signed by these leaders commits the Bureau of Land ManagementU.S. Forest ServiceU.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service along with 15 nonprofit groups to team up to develop and implement nationwide 50th-anniversary education programs, activities, events, and products to celebrate the establishment of our National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and to convey the ecological and social benefits of an enduring wilderness resource to the American people.

The NWPS encompasses 109 million acres across 44 states and Puerto Rico, and each year more than 12 million people visit wilderness areas to hunt, hike, camp, fish, bird-watch, and otherwise experience our wild public land. The first wilderness areas were designated in 1964, and, nearly every year since, additional places have been recognized for their wilderness character and permanently protected.

Doug Scott of the Pew Environment Group's wilderness program praised the collaboration and said: “The 1964 Wilderness Act is a groundbreaking American public law, ranked by historians with the Homestead Act and the National Park Act. Since Congress began implementing the Wilderness Act in 1966, every president has signed laws designating additional areas. President Jimmy Carter signed laws protecting the largest acreage, while President Ronald Reagan signed the greatest number.

“The work of preserving our wild heritage is bipartisan. Congress has pending 25 measures to designate public land across a dozen states, totaling more than 2 million acres.

“Protecting wilderness is good for local communities. People choose to visit and live in these places to be close to nature, for the clean air and water, to introduce a child to adventures beyond the whine of motors and the seemingly ever-present mechanical devices that dominate our lives.

“We look forward to working with the land management agencies to recognize and honor this benchmark law, which gives all Americans the tool to safeguard our common ground.”

Speakers at the signing ceremony included Janine Velasco, acting deputy director (operations) of the Bureau of Land Management; Rowan Gould, deputy director of operations for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Ed Zahniser of the National Park Service, whose father drafted the Wilderness Act; and Chad Dawson of the Society for Wilderness Stewardship. Dawson remembered Howard Zahniser, saying, “I can imagine that the framers of this act are with us today in spirit celebrating this success; however, knowing of those legendary characters that went before us (or are still among us), they would exhort us to remain vigilant, proactive, and steadfast in the management and stewardship of the National Wilderness Preservation System. Our celebration is a renewal of that vision and our promise to those generations yet unborn.”

Bob Marshall Wilderness

Bob Marshall Wilderness

The Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana was established by the 1964 Wilderness Act.

Mokelumne Wilderness

Mokelumne Wilderness

California's Mokelumne Wilderness was established by the 1964 Wilderness Act.

North Fork Owyhee

North Fork Owyhee

The Owyhees Wilderness in Idaho was established in 2009 by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act

Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness

Colorado's Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness was established in 2009 by the Omnibus Public Land Management Act.

Wilderness Designations Across the U.S.

Wilderness Map