As adventurers in the 1800’s traveled west to start a new life, there was more land available than they could have ever imagined. At first, land was grabbed for farms or to exploit the bounty of natural resources like timber and minerals. By the end of the 19th century, however, people like John Muir, father of our National Park System and designated "wilderness prophet,” began to express concern about the impact of humans on wild places. During the 1900’s, a group of individuals formed the Wilderness Society, and one of their members, Howard Zahniser, took it upon himself to lobby indefatigably for the protection of wilderness. After eight years of lobbying by “Zahnie,” Congress passed The Wilderness Act (WA) in 1964. This was the first time that federal land was set aside for the purpose of protecting it from mankind. Zahnie’s motto was “wilderness forever.”
The WA created the legal definition of wilderness in the U.S. A wilderness is a place “untrammeled by man” where the works of man take second fiddle to nature. In true wilderness, “man is a visitor but does not remain.” There are no roads in wilderness areas and all vehicular traffic is prohibited, even mountain bikes, except under special permit. The WA initially set aside 9.1 million acres of federal land to be protected as wilderness. Now,109 million acres are protected in 44 states and Puerto Rico.
Four major criteria are used to designate wilderness areas: 1) there must be minimal human imprint on the land; 2) there must be opportunities for unconfined recreation; 3) the area must contain at least 5000 roadless acres; and 4) the land must be of educational, scientific, or historical value. Once a wilderness area is added to the system of protected wildernesses, its protection and boundaries can be altered only by Congress.
How will waiving the WA affect designated wilderness areas in the Sonoran Desert (click here for a list of all 48 laws that have been waived)? We find the answer in the Cabeza Prieta Wilderness area (above photo), located in the Sonoran Desert on the Mexican border. Border Patrol roads now crisscross the desert floor, destroying plants, cutting off wildlife corridors, and damaging soil. Wilderness is apparently not forever, as man’s imprint is all over this “protected” place.
Please contact your U.S. Senators and Representatives (https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members) and let them know that you oppose waiving The Wilderness Act to expedite construction of a border wall. Click here if you would like to make a donation to help us fight the border wall.