Legal Wilderness: Its Past and Some Speculations on Its Future
Leshy, John D., Environmental Law
E. Fabulous Success
Perhaps the most notable thing about implementation of the Wilderness Act is how the NWPS has grown by leaps and bounds. From the original fifty-four charter areas comprising nine million acres, (258) it now includes more than 750 areas extending over nearly 110 million acres, (259) a fifteen-fold increase in the number of areas, and a twelve-fold increase in acreage. Originally thirteen states were represented in the system. (260) Today, there are wilderness areas in forty-four states across the country. (261) The NWPS includes nearly one out of every six acres of federal land administered by the four federal land agencies, and almost one out of every twenty acres in the entire United States. (262)
Significantly, the vast majority of these additions did not result from the 1964 Act's agency study process. Proposals to add lands to the NWPS were freely formulated by conservationists and steered through Congress by friendly members, sometimes over the opposition of the managing federal agency. (263) The spread of the NWPS across the country has responded to Leopold's call, made in one of his earliest writings on the subject, for wilderness areas in each state in order to make the "wilderness experience more accessible to those who desired it." (264) While many of these proposals were based at least in part on agency inventories, some were based on "citizen inventories," conducted by wilderness advocates outside the agency. Often, a threat of resource development spurred wilderness advocates and supporters in Congress to work to enact legislation putting the threatened lands in the NWPS. When the New York Port Authority eyed New Jersey's Great Swamp, a National Wildlife Refuge, as the site of an airport, opponents successfully persuaded Congress to put about 3,700 acres in the NWPS in 1968, the first refuge lands to be so designated. (265) Other threats prompted advocates to push the Endangered American Wilderness Act through Congress in 1978. (266)
In acreage terms, the vast bulk of NWPS expansion has come in Alaska, mostly through the landmark Alaska National Interest Land Conservation Act of 1980, or ANILCA, which in a single stroke tripled the size of the NWPS. (267) It put, for example, 18.5 million acres of National Wildlife Refuge land in the NWPS (more than twenty times the acreage of Refuge land in the NWPS in the lower forty-eight); thirty-two million acres of National Park System land (ten times the amount of NPS acreage in the NWPS in the lower forty-eight), as well as five million acres of national forest lands. (268) Even today, with substantial additions to the NWPS in the lower forty-eight states since 1980, Alaska still accounts for more than half of the total NWPS acreage (fifty-seven million acres, in forty-eight units).
The scale of the NWPS likely exceeds even the most optimistic expectations of the framers of the Wilderness Act. But it would be a mistake to measure the Act's success only by lands formally part of the NWPS. The Act's legacy fairly includes acreage in various study phases for NWPS consideration, described above, as well as acreage being managed substantially to preserve roadless qualities, like the lands subject to the Forest Service's Roadless Rule, discussed further below. When these other lands--managed largely for protection of their wild qualities in the shadow of the Wilderness Act--are included, the total approaches two hundred million acres, or nearly 10% of the land area in the nation. All told, the Act is a majestic achievement, truly remarkable for a nation with a deep commitment to economic development, rapid transportation and private property rights, and infused with a distrust of government, particularly the national government.
V. CHANGES IN FEDERAL LAND POLICY SINCE 1964
As the Wilderness Act evolved through implementation, the rest of the federal land management world did not stand still. To the contrary, it changed too, in ways that have had, and will continue to have, significant impact on the future of legal wilderness. …