Forest Atlas Of The United States


Designated wilderness in the United States began with the 1964 Wilderness Act that created the National Wilderness Preservation System with approximately 9 million acres in 13 states. Today this wilderness system has 757 wildernesses on nearly 110 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico. Four federal agencies manage this network of wilderness: the USDA Forest Service, and the DOI Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service.

The goal of wilderness is to set aside landscapes “for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness...”

To meet this goal, the US Congress designates wilderness 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. [Wilderness is] 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.”

Wildernesses are further designated with the intent

“To assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition… to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.”

There are many benefits provided by wilderness areas. They protect our cultural and spiritual heritage, providing an opportunity to learn how wilderness forged our American identity. Wilderness areas provide and protect ecosystem services like fresh water and economic vitality to local communities from visitors and residents who value beautiful scenery, opportunities to hike, hunt, and watch wildlife. As refuges from people and development for all life, wilderness areas are places to learn how relatively undisturbed ecological systems function and better understand the effects of development, land use change, and climate change.

As the pace of global change increases, the values and benefits of wilderness are more important than ever. As Aldo Leopold wrote,

“The richest values of wilderness lie not in the days of Daniel Boone, nor even in the present, but rather in the future.”

Designated wilderness areas protect a broad range of NO CHANGE – Wilderness Map ecosystems. Each wilderness area is managed by one of four federal agencies – the US Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, and the National Park Service. Both in number and area, the distribution of wilderness by agency is broadly reflective of the pattern of lands administered by these agencies.

wilderness areas by federal agency

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