What is Wilderness?

Wilderness areas are wild places where one can retreat from civilization, reconnect with the Earth, and find healing, and significance. In wilderness areas, the ecosystem is in a natural state and human impact is minimal.

The United States was the first country in the world to define and designate wilderness areas through law. In 1964 our nation’s leaders formally acknowledged the immediate and lasting benefits of wild places to the human spirit and fabric of our nation. In a nearly unanimous vote, Congress enacted The Wilderness Act, which permanently protected some of the most natural and undisturbed places in America. In designated Wilderness Areas, legal protections prevent human interference with the natural functioning of the ecosystem. Wildlife habitats are preserved, as are opportunities for nature lovers to experience the land in a pristine state. The Wilderness Act continues to be the guiding piece of legislation for all wilderness areas. The Act describes wilderness as:

“…lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition…” Section 2(a)

“…an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvement or human habitation…” Section 2(c)

“…affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable…” Section 2(c)

“…has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation…” Section 2(c)

“…shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreation, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation and historic use.” Section 4(b)

Approximately 109 million acres in the U.S. is designated as wilderness. Because Alaska contains just over half of America’s wilderness, only about 2.7% of the contiguous United States—an area about the size of Minnesota—is protected as wilderness. Less than 1% of the Eastern United States is protected as Wilderness.

Read the entire Wilderness Act here.