"The Wilderness Bill preserves for our posterity, for all time to come, 9 million acres of this vast continent in their original and unchanging beauty and wonder." -- President Lyndon B. Johnson, upon signing the Wilderness Act into law on September 3, 1964
50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act
Fifty years ago today, on September 3, 1964, President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law at a Rose Garden signing ceremony. This landmark law established the National Wilderness Preservation System, initially 54 Forest Service-administered areas that totaled 9.1 million acres. The Wilderness Act also provided, for the first time ever, protections for Wildernesses in the federal statutes, with the goal that wilderness designation would be permanent protection. The law, thanks to Howard Zahniser (the author of the Act), lyrically provided the legal definition of Wilderness, in part as “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 Wilderness Act also required that each additional area to be added to the National Wilderness Preservation System must do so through an Act of Congress. Since 1964, Congress has responded to the desires of the American public and expanded the wilderness system again and again. Today, the National Wilderness Preservation System has grown to 758 areas that total just under 110 million acres.
More detailed information on the Wilderness Act, its 50th anniversary, and Wilderness Watch’s own 25th anniversary will be found in the forthcoming issue of our print newsletter, the Summer/Fall issue of the Wilderness Watcher.
So today we celebrate with deep pride and great gratitude the people, like our own Stewart "Brandy" Brandborg, who struggled to pass the Wilderness Act for the eight long years it took, and for all those across the country who have fought to protect other areas that are now part of our magnificent National Wilderness Preservation System, areas that will be, in the words of the Wilderness Act, “an enduring resource of wilderness” for all generations.
TOP: On September 3, 1964, President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law. Standing behind him are many of the Congressional sponsors of the law. On the far right is Secretary of Interior Steward Udall. The 3rd from the right in the front row, with the dark-rimmed glasses and dark hair, is Secretary of Agriculture Orville Freeman. Only two women stand in the group, Alice Zahniser with black hair and Mardy Murie with grey hair. The President gave to each of them the pens that he used in signing the Wilderness Act into law; the husbands of each of these women (Howard Zahniser and Olaus Murie) had worked hard to write and pass the Wilderness Act but had died before that day. Photo by Abbie Rowe, courtesy of National Park Service, Harper’s Ferry Center, Historic Graphic Collection.
MIDDLE: Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. Photo by U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
BOTTOM: The Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, was one of the original Wildernesses designated by the Wilderness Act. Photo: Wikipedia.