Washington, DC -
03/31/2004 - On the eve of the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act-the nation’s conservation beacon-more than 100 actors, architects, artists, chefs, sportsmen, musicians, scientists, writers, business and religious leaders, and former Members of Congress and administration officials from both sides of the aisle, have joined Americans for Wilderness, to celebrate and raise awareness about the country’s wilderness legacy.
Co-chaired by Barbara Kingsolver, Robert Redford, and Christopher Reeve, the group includes prominent citizens from diverse backgrounds, including authors Bill Bryson and Kurt Vonnegut; former Interior Under Secretary Russ Train and former EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus; musicians Bonnie Raitt and Don Henley; former U.S. Senators Richard Schweicker (R-PA) and George McGovern (D-SD); REI CEO Dennis Madsen, Black Diamond CEO Peter Metcalf, and investment banker Theodore Roosevelt, IV; architects I.M. Pei and Maya Lin; chefs Nora Pouillon and Alice Waters; actors Morgan Freeman, Mary Kay Place, Ted Danson and Laura Dern; former US House members Geraldine Ferraro (D-NY), Pete McClosky (R-CA) and Jolene Unseold (D-WA); former Mayors Federico Pen*a and Wellington Webb; bird illustrator David Sibley; scientists E.O. Wilson and Dr. A. Carl Leopold; LaDonna Harris, president, Americans for Indian Opportunity; former National Park Service director Bob Stanton; and the Right Rev. Tom Ely and Rev. Forrest Church. Former presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford - who, combined, signed wilderness laws protecting nearly 70 million acres of public land-are honorary members.
"The Wilderness Act was a historic bill that provided lungs for our nation ... a place to breathe, exhale, and cherish," says former U.S. Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-CO). Signed into law September 3, 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, the Act immediately protected nine million acres of wilderness and established the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Act passed because lawmakers from both sides of the aisle had the vision to put politics aside for the sake of future generations.
"Far too often, protection of unique and wild places becomes a political football between parties," says actor and wilderness activist Robert Redford. "Reflecting on this landmark measure should remind us that preserving our public lands can and should be a collective, bipartisan effort."
"We must leave to our twenty-first century children two important legacies: All of the knowledge we possess on which they will build in ways we cannot yet foresee, and wilderness preserves or windows to the past where they can stand and say, ‘This is how it was before man touched the earth,’" says former Senator Dan Evans (R-WA).
Christopher Reeve adds, "Every American has a stake in preserving our wilderness heritage. The wilderness is critical to defending the country against the abuses of over-development and disregard of the environment. Most of all, we have a solemn duty to preserve wilderness for future generations. They deserve to inherit a generous sample of the diversity of the original American earth that shaped our national history and character."
Spectacular places like California's John Muir Wilderness, New Mexico's Gila Wilderness, Glacier Peak in Washington, and Idaho's Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness were among the first pristine, natural treasures given protection under the Act. Over the years, the wilderness system has grown to 106 million acres across 44 states, although more than half is in Alaska alone. And today, still less than five percent of the nation’s landmass is permanently protected.
"Mankind can always create a desert, but never a pristine wilderness," says former Governor David Cargo (R-NM). "We can only preserve a pristine wilderness for the benefit of posterity, and we should all make an effort to do so."
Mike Dombeck, former chief of the U.S. Forest Service adds, "I hope this society has the foresight to preserve enough of our wilderness heritage so future generations can see at least a small part of this nation as our forefathers saw it."
"People need wild places," says author Barbara Kingsolver. "Whether or not we think we do, we do. We need to experience a landscape that is timeless, whose agenda moves at the pace of speciation and glaciers."
Bucknell Religion Professor Mary Evelyn Tucker agrees, "The human spirit will neither survive nor thrive without wilderness. It’s as necessary as food is to our flourishing."
Our wild places provide solitude, spectacular scenery, and clean water and air. And, as musician Emmylou Harris says, "We all live downstream."
Wilderness also provides a wide variety of recreational opportunities, and not just for hiking, climbing, camping or kayaking. "Our wilderness areas are a premier place to hunt and fish," says former Interior Secretary and ID Governor Cecil Andrus. "I’ve done some of my best fly fishing in Idaho’s Sawtooth Wilderness. Generations of parents have introduced their youngsters to the highest quality wild hunting experiences in places like the Great Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness. And generations will be doing the same thing far into the future."
Writer Bill Bryson sums up wilderness this way, "It’s huge, it’s beautiful, it’s good for the environment and the soul, and they are not making any more of it. How many other reasons do you need for treasuring the American wilderness?"
Citizens continue to push for wilderness protection, with legislation or proposals currently pending to preserve land in 20 states.
"With each passing year, the efforts to protect and preserve our wilderness have become more important. Surely we owe this to future generations," adds former Congressman (R-IL) and Independent presidential candidate, John Anderson.
In the months leading up to the September anniversary, Americans for Wilderness will seek ways to spotlight the Act and raise awareness about the important role the nation’s wild lands play in all our lives. A complete list of this group appears in today’s edition of Roll Call newspaper, and can be accessed at www.wildernessforever.org. Citizens were invited to join Americans for Wilderness by the Campaign for America’s Wilderness and The Wilderness Society.