The Wilderness Story
"A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.”
Aldo Leopold, a former Forest Service ranger and supervisor who in 1924 convinced the agency to protect as wilderness 500,000 acres of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico. It became the agency’s first officially designated wilderness area. Leopold went on to write Sand County Almanac, which now stands as a classic among nature literature along with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. Leopold is considered by many to be the father of modern conservation.
What is wilderness?
Although some people see a forest as wilderness, the definition of federal wilderness is specific.
The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines it 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.” The Act’s purpose is to preserve and protect the natural ecosystems and wild areas and also provide opportunities for solitude and retrospective or primitive recreation.
Wilderness areas are valuable for the historical, scientific, educational, geologic and ecological benefits. They help the environment and the economy.
But perhaps one of the greatest benefits is what wilderness areas can do for a person. For those who travel into wilderness areas the experience can be awe inspiring and life changing. Those treks are what made great novels and critically acclaimed essays. Many who venture onto wilderness areas come back out changed with a deeper understanding of why these lands are set aside. Each person has their own story.
Today, there are 803 wilderness areas covering more than 111.7 million acres that are part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, which is managed by the Forest Service and three other federal land management. From the 5.5-acre Pelican Island Wilderness in Northern Florida to the 9.4 million-acre Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness in Alaska, each help shape personal stories.
Many of those stories are committed to videos and blogs. Here are a few of those stories as told by Forest Service employees and volunteers.
- What is wilderness? Experience exceeds the definition
- Get back, give back: federal retiree begins new ‘career’ with Forest Service
- Back country tough: Trails crew spend months living, working in the wilderness | US Forest Service (usda.gov)
- Forest Employees Partner to Provide Improved Access to Historic Cemetery
- The Keepers of Traditions: Pack Teams on the National Forests
More videos celebrating wilderness