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
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
For more information on wilderness issues and what you
can do to help, check out these Web sites:
2000-2018, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund