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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.

Meeting the next generation who will carry the torch as wilderness, natural resource stewards

"A photo of youth who were part of the filming of “Untrammeled” marvel at the stars."
Youth marvel at the stars. USDA Forest Service photo.
"A photo of Jackson Hart of Missoula, Montana, has a panoramic view of the Scapegoat Wilderness Area."
Jackson Hart of Missoula, Montana, has a panoramic view of the Scapegoat Wilderness Area. USDA Forest Service photo.

More videos celebrating wilderness