What is Wilderness?

We like to think of Wilderness as our gift to future generations of Americans. It’s one piece of the ecological puzzle to save our country from ever-expanding development. It’s refuge and corridor for wildlife. It’s biological diversity. It’s untamed forest, desert, coast, and mountain. It’s quiet. It’s restorative. It keeps us sane. 

Protecting America’s wild landscapes is what Great Broads for Wilderness is all about. It takes an act of Congress to designate an area as wilderness—and YOUR voice is an important part of protecting our wild places.

 Here is more information about the wilderness designation process.


A beautiful expression of the ideals of the Wilderness Act

The Wilderness Act of 1964

The Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System to preserve and protect public lands that fit the following definition of Wilderness:

… in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, [Wilderness] 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.

An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act 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 and which

  1. Generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable.
  2. Has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation
  3. Has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition
  4. May also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) are landscapes that are currently being managed as Wilderness because they qualify for designation as Wilderness by Congress. These are roadless areas lacking human development that also have “wilderness characteristics” – opportunity for solitude and reflection. Still, the vast majority of the wild lands managed by Federal agencies are open to consumptive uses of some kind.

There are also laws beyond the Wilderness Act that provide ways to designate lower levels of protection for our public lands. Designation of National Parks by legislation protects those lands from commercial development, setting them aside for conservation so that present and future generations can enjoy, be inspired by, and use them for education. There are 62 “National Parks,” but 419 national park sites, with at least one in every state. National Monuments, which are designated by Presidential decree, are also protected from commercial development.

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) manage their public lands according to “resource management plans” (RMPs) that must comply with the guidelines of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA).

Much of Broads’ work involves participating in these resource management plans during the public comments periods and using NEPA in court to challenge plans that will lead to the degradation of wild lands and contribute to climate change.