Fifty years ago our federal legislators and our president, writers and photographers, advocates and outdoorsmen, indeed, the nation came together and agreed on the intrinsic value of wilderness. With bold and eloquent language, wildlands were declared essential:
"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 its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
With President Lyndon Johnson’s signature in 1964, over nine million acres of wild lands were preserved and the Wilderness Act became the law of the land. It was a visionary victory for those that prize the unpaved, open lands and wildlife that are so much a part of America's landscape and natural heritage. Over the years many congressional sessions have set aside wilderness and today more than 100 million acres are protected by the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS).
The NWPS was established as much for the protection of wild lands and animal habitats as for the use and enjoyment of the American people and the generations to come. Wilderness provides many direct and indirect benefits, relating to ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic, spiritual, economic, recreational, historical, and cultural uses and activities. There are currently 757 wilderness areas within the NWPS. They are managed by all four federal land managing agencies: the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service.
To celebrate the 50 anniversary of the Wilderness Act, a coalition of nearly 30 non-profit organizations, academic institutions, and government agencies has been formed. Wilderness 50 is currently planning and helping to implement local, regional, and national events, projects, and celebrations around the country. This coalition is charged with raising public awareness of wilderness and engaging youth during 2014, the 50th anniversary year. For more information visit Wilderness50.
Although Utah includes millions of acres of spectacular red rock canyons and mountains suitable for wilderness, only a little over one million acres have been protected by congress. In fact, Utah has the smallest acreage protected as Wilderness among the mountain west states. However, over three million acres currently enjoy limited protection as Wilderness Study Areas and the proposed legislation of America’s Red Rock Wilderness Act identifies over nine million wilderness-worthy acres. Add National Forest lands, National Park units, other BLM lands and wilderness deserving of protection could add up to 17 million acres!
To recognize the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, as well our own wild lands in Utah, a coalition of non-profits and agencies has partnered with the Natural History Museum of Utah to create "Wilderness 50: A Photographic Celebration of Wild Utah." This project will comprise a juried competition to create an exhibition of 50 photographs depicting the wild public lands of Utah. Images for the exhibit will be Utah-inclusive and in the spirit of the Wilderness Act. The judges include internationally recognized photographers/writers James Kay, Tom Till, and Stephen Trimble. The exhibit will be featured in the 2,000-square-foot Sky Gallery at the Natural History Museum of Utah and is slated to run from September 2014 through November 2014.
Additional information about this exhibit is not available on a NHMU new website. Shortly after the first of the new year submissions for the exhibit will begin being accepting. Check for details on the website.
The Utah Wilderness 50 team is comprised of members of various land conservation non-profits, including Utah Chapter Sierra Club, as well as relevant federal agencies. There are many other activities that we are considering, but we need dedicated volunteers to make these other events happen.