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 and celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, as well our own wild lands in Utah, the Utah Chapter Sierra Club worked with the Natural History Museum of Utah to create "Utah Wilderness 50: A Photographic Celebration of Wild Utah." Internationally recognized photographers James Kay, Tom Till, Rosalie Winard, and Stephen Trimble reviewed over 1400 images before finally selecting 50 winning images that reveal the beauty, diversity and fragility of Utah's wild lands and wildlife habitats. 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 3, 2014 through mid-December 2014.