Is the Wilderness Act Endangered?

wildernessPublic appreciation for the wilderness took some time, and nothing could celebrate people’s ability to come together and realize how important and fragile our environment is than the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the famous Wilderness Act.

This September, wilderness activists and outdoor enthusiasts alike will be reflecting on how far American (and North American, for that matter) environmental ethics has come. The Wilderness Act is the sole piece of federal legislation that fostered a national system of wilderness areas throughout the country.

The act is true evidence of North America’s sincere regard for preserving the wilderness and wanting it to exist for future generations; blood, sweat, and tears have gone into political debates and material resources in order to protect these vast expanses of land. Yet now critics question whether or not this document is still relevant to today’s environmental standings.

John Muir, a historical wilderness activist legend, sparked the thoughts that wilderness should be appreciated and respected, garnering future movements and followers to protect natural ecosystems and wildlife. For example, in the 20th century wilderness activists rallied against the building of a hydroelectric dam in Yosemite valley, which was also attempted during Muir’s lifetime.

As most know, times change, and archaeologists, historians, and geographers alike have all gathered a plethora of evidence against keeping John Muir’s “forever wild” parks in pristine, untouched existence.

Experts claim that Native Americans used technology — though not as advanced as today’s — to alter their wilderness surroundings in order to make their habitats more livable; for their survival. They manipulated the earth, cleared forests, used fire, and domesticated animals.

Unfortunately, Muir’s wilderness has been altered by human-caused climate change, urbanization, pollution, spread of invasive species, and other factors. So much have we changed out planet’s natural identity that scientists have described these impacts as a global shift, a transformation into the age of humans — not the wild.

As a result of this shift, wilderness activists have been fighting to alter the Wilderness Act in order to protect nature. The “hands-off,” or let-it-be method of conservation is no longer applicable to today’s world; stronger, bolder, better amendments to this act need to be instilled to account for the rapidly changing planet.

Those calling for change want to promote landscape manipulation, but in a way that will restore balance to ecosystems, such as preventing floods and undergoing water purification processes. Reintroducing native plant and animal species to areas that they once called home is another factor.

By altering the nearly 50 year old Wilderness Act to account for a more hands-on approach to conservation will allow nature lovers to better appreciate the wilderness, and to enjoy what it has to offer in terms of outdoor activities.

“It’s important to get outside and get into nature to make the connection with earth and build the love and respect for our planet,” says René Gauthier, CEO of Sitka. “I believe Jacques Cousteau once said ‘protect the things we love’, getting outside lets you build that appreciation for our planet.”

In 1901, John Muir wrote that “None of Nature’s landscapes are ugly so long as they are wild,” and hopefully the changes made to the Wilderness Act will help retain Muir’s wilderness.