Wilderness, as defined by the Wilderness Act of 1964, is "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain." The Act prohibits activities such as road construction, logging, mineral extraction, and other commercial activities in designated wilderness areas. Livestock grazing and mineral development were allowed to continue, provided they were being practiced on the land prior to designation.

Initially, 9.1 million acres of roadless national forest land in 13 western states was designated wilderness under the Wilderness Act. As of 1999 - 35 years later - there were 635 designated wilderness areas totaling 104 million acres. The U.S. Forest Service (USFS), Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Park Service (NPS) are responsible for managing the land.

Road construction on Forest Service and BLM lands has been a controversial policy for many years. The Wilderness Act assures that roadless areas designated as wilderness will be managed to preserve their pristine character. In 1999, the USFS issued an 18-month moratorium on road construction in many of the nation's remaining unspoiled, non-wilderness national forest areas, while the agency studied ways to revise regulations to manage national forests. In May 2000, the Clinton administration issued a draft rule and environmental impact statement for USFS roadless areas that proposes to halt most roadbuilding as the USFS updates its forest plans. The proposal does not, however, halt timber cutting in these areas. In addition, it does not cover the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

Wilderness advocates oppose development of the nation's last remaining roadless areas. They argue that once an area is opened for development it loses its roadless status and cannot be protected under the Wilderness Act. However, development interests and others opposed to the protection of roadless areas argue that some development is inevitable.

Protecting Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil and gas development has been a hot political topic over the past decade. Often referred to as "Americaís Serengeti" the Arctic Refuge's 19 million acres are home to hundreds of plant and animal species, and millions of migratory birds.

This unique and unequaled wildlife should not be sacrificed for short-term economic gain and should be protected as wilderness for future generations. Already, 90 percent of Alaska's Arctic Ocean coastline is open to development. Proponents of oil drilling significantly underestimate the impact of drilling on the plants, wildlife and indigenous people who live in the refuge ecosystem.

The canyons and plateaus of southern Utah are dry, starkly beautiful and largely uninhabited, yet they are the subject of one of the most contentious wilderness debates in recent history. The 1976 Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) directed the BLM, which is responsible for much of Utah's public land, to inventory all roadless areas and assess their potential for wilderness designation. The BLM ended up designating only 3.2 million acres of Wilderness Study Areas in Utah. Subsequently a group of citizens performed their own exhaustive inventory of Utah wilderness, identifying 9.1 million acres of land that they believed qualified as wilderness. By the mid-1980s wilderness advocates were able to identify only 5.7 million acres (roughly 25 percent out of 22 million acres) of roadless areas suitable for wilderness designation remaining in Utah.

Bills have been introduced in every Congress since 1989 that would designate 5.7 million acres of Utah's basin and range region and the Colorado plateau as wilderness. However, Utah's congressional delegation has steadfastly opposed these efforts, and has tried instead to weaken protections to allow destructive practices such as grazing, mining and offroad vehicle use in potential wilderness areas.In 1996, President Clinton used his executive powers to create the Grand Staircase-Esclante National Monument, lending monument protection to 1.7 million acres of southern Utah, including 1.3 million acres of the 5.7 million acre wilderness proposal.

For more information on wilderness issues and what you can do to help, check out these Web sites:



Contact Information



© 2000-2018, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund

 

 



Contact Information



© 2000-2018, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund