History of Wilderness Progress


wilderness legislation
SEPTEMBER 3. 1964: After gaining overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress, President Lyndon Johnson signs the Wilderness Act, immediately protecting the first 9 million acres in 54 statutory wilderness areas.   The law also requires a 10-year review by agencies to shape recommendations concerning 5 million acres of National Forest ‘primitive areas,’  as well as all roadless areas within National Parks, Monuments, and other park categories, and within National Wildlife Refuges.

1964 – 1974:  Based on the reviews required by the 1964 Act, Presidents send their wilderness recommendations to Congress. Congress begins designating additional wilderness areas in 1968, often enlarging and augmenting agency recommendations.

1972:  President Richard Nixon signs legislation designating the Scapegoat Wilderness in Montana, the first wilderness area protecting public lands that were not required to be reviewed by the Act, but approved on the strength of a grassroots citizen campaign.

1973:  Secretary of Agriculture proposes some new wilderness areas involving National Forest roadless lands not required to be studied under the 1964 Wilderness Act, but these Roadless Area Review and Evaluation [RARE-I] recommendations are flawed by inadequate inventory of “roadless areas.”

1975:  Congress enacts, and President Gerald Ford signs, the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act, protecting 207,000 acres of wilderness on National Forests in the East, South and Midwest. Congress rejects the view that once-logged or inhabited lands can never qualify for wilderness Act protection.

1976:  President Ford signs the Federal Land Policy and Management Act, extending the wilderness protection program under the Wilderness Act to hundreds of millions of acres of Western and Alaskan lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management.

1978:  With the Endangered American Wilderness Act, signed by President Jimmy Carter, 1.3 million acres of National Forest lands across the West are designated as wilderness, all on the basis of proposals initiated by local citizen groups.  Congressional review of these proposals reveals serious inadequacy in way wilderness potential of National Forest “roadless areas” are considered in agency plans.

1979:  On the basis of an improved inventory of “roadless areas” on National Forests [RARE-II], new wilderness areas are recommended, but process is flawed and leads to Court decision requiring more specific analysis of each “roadless area.”

1980: President Carter signs the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, history’s most ambitious land and wildlife conservation law.  Fifty million acres of new wilderness areas protect vast tundra and deep old-growth forests on public lands across Alaska.  (President Carter signs laws designating more wilderness acreage than any other President.)

1984:  President Ronald Reagan (who signed more wilderness protection laws than any other President) signs wilderness laws for 22 states in a single year, protecting some 8 million acres, as Congress reviews and significantly improves National Forest wilderness recommendations based on the 1979 RARE-II process between 1980 and 1991.

1994:  California Desert Protection Act, signed by President Bill Clinton, designates 3.7 million acres of wilderness administered by the Bureau of Land Management in the desert east of Los Angeles, and 4 million acres in Death Valley and other national park units.

2001:  After the most extensive public comment process for any Federal rule-making decision in American history, President Clinton’s Roadless Area Conservation Rule is adopted, protecting some 60 million acres of “roadless areas” on National Forests, much of which local citizen groups hope to see Congress preserve as wilderness.

•    President George W. Bush’s administration presses Congress to open fragile wild lands in the West and Alaska to oil and gas drilling.
•    Bush administration order cuts off review of tens of millions of acres of wild public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management to thwart further statutory wilderness protections for any BLM lands.
•    Bush administration attempts to gut the protections of the Roadless Area Conservation Rule, starting with the Tongass National Forest, in Alaska.
•    Grassroots citizen groups mobilize to counter these concerted special interest assaults on high-quality, unprotected wilderness.

2002:  With bipartisan support Congress passes and President Bush signs, four wilderness laws, designating half a million acres of wilderness in Nevada, California, Colorado, and South Dakota.

2004: With bipartisan support from Nevada’s entire Congressional delegation, Congress passes and President Bush signs into law the largest wilderness designation in the state’s history—protecting 14 new wilderness areas, totaling more than 768,000 acres in Lincoln County.  Congress also extends wilderness protection to 35,000 acres on islands in Lake Superior within the Apostle Islands National Lakeshore in Wisconsin.

2005: Congress passes and President George W. Bush signs into law wilderness protection for 11,000 acres of desert canyon lands in northwestern New Mexico and 10,000 acres of tropical rain forest in Puerto Rico—the only tropical rainforest in America’s National Forest system.

With bipartisan support from Congress, President Bush signs –
•    Northern California Wild Heritage Wilderness Act, protecting 273,000 acres and 21 miles of rivers along the northern coast of California, including the King Range Wilderness—the longest stretch of undeveloped coastline in the lower 48 states.
•    New England Wilderness Act, protecting some 76,000 acres of wilderness in Vermont and New Hampshire.
•    Bills protecting more than  a half-million acres of new wilderness areas in eastern Nevada and 100,000 acres in Utah.

2008: President Bush signs law designating the Wild Sky Wilderness, which protects 106,577 acres of national forest roadless lands in Washington.

•    The Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009 passes Congress and is signed into law by President Barack Obama.  The bill protects 2.1 million acres of new wilderness areas in California, Colorado, Idaho, Michigan, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia.
•    By summer, bills to designate new wilderness areas have already been introduced in Congress  to protect additional public land in Washington, New Mexico, Idaho, Montana, Colorado, Utah, Alaska, and Oregon.
•    Citizen groups from all parts of the country work to fine-tune proposals for additional wilderness designations, working with their Congressional delegations to seek bipartisan support for these proposals.
•    President Obama shows strong support for public land protection, visiting Yellowstone and Grand Canyon National Parks with his family.
•    Obama administration strongly endorses the 2001 Clinton Roadless Area Conservation Rule; the Justice Department joins environmental groups to defend the Rule in court cases.