Henry David Thoreau wrote these words in 1862. Today, almost a century and a half later, they are more true than ever before. Mining, forest clear cutting, oil and gas development, and road building are destroying the extraordinary and irreplaceable wilderness that is our natural heritage.
The Wilderness Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson on September 3, 1964, created a National Wilderness Preservation System so that wild lands, including national parks, national forests, and lands overseen by the federal Bureau of Land Management, would be managed “for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness…”
Today, 45 years later, this prescient legislation seems more essential than ever. Though 109 million acres of land in Alaska and the lower 48 have been protected under the Act, many exquisite regions of forests, prairies, coastlines, mountains, and wetlands remain threatened simply because they haven’t yet been classified as federal wilderness.
Fortunately, citizens and concerned members of Congress are working to protect as much of America’s remaining wild lands as possible. The Alaska Wilderness League (on whose board I served for six years) is striving to secure federal wildernesss status for the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The Campaign for America's Wilderness is spearheading wilderness protection campaigns in a dozen states. President Obama recently declared September 2009 "National Wilderness Month" and signed the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which designated over 2 million acres of wilderness from coast to coast.
But that is not enough. Wild lands clean our air and filter our water. They protect open space from sprawl, and provide much needed wildlife habitat, especially for endangered species. And increasingly in this shell-shocked, post 9/11 era, people are using wilderness to escape the stress of modern-day life.
Americans are losing 6,000 acres of open space every day, acreage we can ill afford to lose. If we want to protect the environment and the lands that restore our bodies and souls, we need to legislate more land as wilderness, and the sooner the better.
You can help.
* Make time to explore the nation's wild lands. Become a strong advocate for the untamed nooks and crannies of our country that have helped define our natural heritage for centuries.
* All wilderness must be created by an act of Congress. Tell your local official to vote for wilderness legislation being proposed by the Campaign for America's Wilderness, the Alaska Wilderness League, and other environmental and consumer groups.
* Use your purse. Donate to local and national organizations like the Campaign for America's Wilderness and Alaska Wilderness League that are working on your behalf to protect America's wilderness.