Wilderness Areas

What is a wilderness area?

wilderness area is a region where the land is in a natural state; where impacts from human activities are minimal—that is, as a wilderness. It might also be called a wild or natural area.

What is a national wilderness area?

The National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) of the United States protects federally managed wilderness areas designated for preservation in their natural condition.

Activity on formally designated wilderness areas is coordinated by the National Wilderness Preservation System. Wilderness areas are managed by four federal land management agencies: the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the Bureau of Land Management.

The term “wilderness” is defined as “an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain” and “an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions.”

How are wilderness areas different from national parks?

Although these federally-managed, protected lands have a lot in common, there are important distinctions.Wilderness areas can be parts of national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests, and the public domain.

Wilderness areas were established in response to heightened concern about pollution in the 1950s and 1960s. The Wilderness Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1964.

What is the purpose of the Wilderness Act of 1964?

This act gave a legal definition of wilderness in the United States:

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The passage of the Act established the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) to protect the then 9 million acres of federal land officially recognized as U.S. wilderness. 

How many wilderness areas are in the United States?

Since 1964, the NWPS has grown almost every year and now includes 765 wilderness areas (109,138,635 acres) in 44 states and Puerto Rico. 

Which state has the most wilderness area?

About half of the total wilderness area in the United States is in the state of Alaska.

In 1980, the passage of the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) added over 56 million acres of wilderness to the system, the largest addition in a single year.

What is the percentage of wilderness in North America?

The 109 million acres of Wilderness Areas in the United States are less than five percent (4.82%) of the total U.S. land base, and when you factor out Alaskan wilderness, it’s just two percent of the lower 48 states.

How much of the world’s land is wilderness?

Wilderness areas represent 46 percent of the Earth’s land surface, but are occupied by just 2.4 percent of the world’s population, excluding urban centers. Nine of the major wilderness areas fall, at least in part, within the United States.

Why is the wilderness important to humans?

Wilderness areas are important because they provide long-term protection to the last of our nation’s wild country, country that contains spectacular beauty, maintains spiritual values, supports native plants and animals often found nowhere else, and provides opportunity for primitive recreation.

What is not allowed in wilderness areas?

Recreational uses in wilderness include activities such as hunting, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, backpacking, camping, nature study, photography, and climbing. Bicycles, four-wheelers, and other forms of mechanical transport are not allowed in Wilderness Areas, since they are prohibited by the Wilderness Act.

Profiles of US Wilderness Areas A-Z