A Wild Week Celebrating Wilderness

Wilderness Week© Kurt Kuznicki

Nevada wilderness advocates visiting the nation's capital for Wilderness Week.

More than 150 lands-protection advocates from 20 states traveled to the nation’s capital in early September for Wilderness Week. The annual event is typically equal parts education, advocacy, and celebration. This year was special because the occasion coincided with the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act—the landmark legislation that gave Americans a voice in safeguarding the wild places in their “backyards.”

Activists from across the country representing two dozen campaigns seeking to add more land to the National Wilderness Preservation System participated in a series of education sessions. Topics included tips on working with Congress and how to engage a new generation of wilderness leaders. Representatives of the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Fish and Wildlife Service discussed how these agencies manage public land. In addition, experts from Facebook, Twitter, and the Interior Department shared best practices for social media platforms as tools to engage and expand a base of supporters.

The Smithsonian Institution’s Museum of Natural History welcomed guests at an evening reception to celebrate the anniversary with an exhibit of photographs highlighting the beauty, diversity, and endurance of the nation’s wilderness.

Activists spent time meeting with lawmakers, learning from returning veterans how service members are rejuvenated by the wild, and listening to environmental historian William Cronon, who chronicled the country’s wilderness story.

A celebratory reception and dinner capped the week. The event, hosted by author and historian Douglas Brinkley, included speeches by Sally Jewell, secretary of the interior, and John Podesta, counselor to the president.

wilderness campaign© The Pew Charitable Trusts

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell gives the opening address at a gala celebrating the 50th Anniversary of The Wilderness Act.

A short film, “Looking Back, Looking Forward,” featuring Robert Redford, made its debut.

Congressional champions and U.S. Senators Harry Reid and Martin Heinrich were honored for their conservation leadership, and Native Alaskan activist and actress Princess Lucaj and California volunteer Vicky Hoover were recognized for their work to preserve wilderness.

celebrating the 50th anniversary of the wilderness act© The Pew Charitable Trusts

Senator Martin Heinrich of New Mexico was presented with the John P. Saylor Wilderness Leadership Award, which honors a member of Congress who has a conservation record and commitment to wilderness protection distinguished by consistent leadership.

Pew’s director of U.S. lands initiatives, Tim Mahoney, who previously worked for The Wilderness Society and Sierra Club, was presented with the Howard C. Zahniser Lifetime Achievement Award for his efforts on behalf of the nation’s wilderness system.

Wilderness Week 2014 proved to be an exciting and productive time for the nation’s wild public lands and an inspiring kickoff to the next 50 years of the Wilderness Act.