The Wilderness Society (United States)
|The Wilderness Society|
|Motto||Keep it Wild. #WeAreTheWild|
|Membership||More than 500,000 members and supporters|
|Founders||Bob Marshall, Benton MacKaye, Aldo Leopold, Bernard Frank, Robert Sterling Yard, Harvey Broome|
The Wilderness Society is an American non-profit organization that is dedicated to protecting America's last remaining wilderness and inspiring Americans to care for wild places. They focus primarily on public lands by advocating for the creation of federally designated wilderness areas and other new land designations, such as national monument designations. As part of their work, they advocate for balanced uses of public lands and healthy stewardship of sensitive wildlands in the national forest, park, and refuge systems as well lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
The Wilderness Society was formed in 1935 by some of America's most legendary environmentalists, including Aldo Leopold, Bob Marshall and Benton Mackaye, among others. Today, they have more than 500,000 members and supporters. The organization was instrumental in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, which celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2014. This bedrock conservation act created the National Wilderness Preservation System that protects nearly 110 million acres of unspoiled U.S. wildlands in the contiguous 48 states, Alaska, and Hawaii. Since the passage of that landmark legislation, The Wilderness Society has been a force behind almost every major land designation into the wilderness system.
- 1 Founding
- 2 Achievements
- 3 Major issues and campaigns
- 4 The Ansel Adams Collection
- 5 Awards
- 6 References
- 7 External links
The Wilderness Society was incorporated on January 21, 1935. The eight founders were Bob Marshall, chief of recreation and lands for the Forest Service; Aldo Leopold, noted wildlife ecologist and later author of A Sand County Almanac; Robert Sterling Yard, publicist for the National Park Service; Benton MacKaye, the "Father of the Appalachian Trail"; Ernest Oberholtzer, proponent of the Quetico-Superior wilderness area; Harvey Broome; Bernard Frank; and Harold C. Anderson. Yard became the Society's first secretary and the editor of its magazine, The Living Wilderness. Gifts from the independently wealthy Marshall financed the organization. After his death in 1939 at age 38, the Society received revenue from a trust established by Marshall's estate.
Other notable conservationists who served with the The Wilderness Society
- Biologist Olaus Murie—joined the organization's governing council in 1937
- Author Sigurd Olson—former president and governing council member
- Celia Hunter, founder of the Alaska Conservation Society and the first woman to lead the national conservation association—served on the governing council, then as president in 1976.
- Howard Zahniser, author of The Wilderness Act of 1964—joined The Wilderness Society in 1945, serving for two decades, first as executive secretary and editor of the organization’s magazine The Living Wilderness, and later as the organization’s executive director
- Conservationist and Alaska advocate Mardy Murie—former governing council member
- Former Wisconsin Senator and Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson—counselor to The Wilderness Society
- Western author Wallace Stegner—former governing council member
- Photographer Ansel Adams—former governing council member
The Wilderness Act of 1964
The Wilderness Act, written by The Wilderness Society's Howard Zahniser, is considered one of America’s greatest conservation achievements. Passed in 1964, the Wilderness Act created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which now protects nearly 110 million acres of wilderness areas from coast to coast. Among some of the very first wilderness areas created by the act were: Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota; Bridger Wilderness, Wyoming; Bob Marshall Wilderness, Montana; and Ansel Adams Wilderness, California.
109 million acres of designated wilderness
In addition to helping establish the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964 under the leadership of Howard Zahniser, The Wilderness Society has played a leadership role in virtually every major wilderness designation. The group has been a force behind the passage of dozens of wilderness bills, which have enlarged the National Wilderness Preservation System to more than 109 million acres. One of their primary goals is the growth of this system so that America's most significant public wildlands can be protected permanently.
While many conservation groups operate in the United States, The Wilderness Society is the largest that works solely on conservation of public lands. It specializes in the issues involving lands that already belong to all Americans: National Parks, National Forests, National Wildlife Refuges, and areas overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. In partnership with fellow conservation groups and allies in other fields, The Wilderness Society has been active in fighting recent efforts to reduce protection for America’s lands and wildlife. The organization believes that President Theodore Roosevelt captured the essence of each generation’s conservation duty when he said, “The nation behaves well if it treats the natural resources as assets which it must turn over to the next generation increased, and not impaired, in value.”
Passage of conservation laws
One of The Wilderness Society’s strengths is building coalitions consisting of environmental groups, as well as representatives of the faith community, sportsmen, ranchers, scientists, business owners, and others. Another specialty is economic analysis, often enabling conservationists to strengthen the case for land protection by documenting that doing so would pay economic dividends. As global economic realities change, so do the economics of land and wildlife conservation.
The Wilderness Society played a major role in passage of the:
- Wilderness Act (1964)
- Wild and Scenic Rivers Act (1968)
- National Trails System Act (1968)
- National Forest Management Act (1976)
- Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (1980)
- Tongass Timber Reform Act (1990)
- California Desert Protection Act (1994)
- National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act (1997)
- The Public Lands Omnibus Act (2009), which added wilderness areas in nine states to the wilderness system.
In addition, the organization
- Developed the first maps of remaining old-growth forests in the Pacific Northwest, showing for the first time the extent to which this priceless resource had been lost and helping to kick off a nationwide campaign to preserve the ancient forests of the Pacific Northwest;
- Helped add millions of acres of wildlands to local, state, and federal parks, forests, and refuges through congressional appropriations from the Land and Water Conservation Fund;
- Produced the first scientifically valid assessment of the status and range of Pacific salmon stocks in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho, contributing to the emergence of salmon conservation as a major national conservation priority; and
- Played a significant role in establishing forest land conservation as a priority in New England and helped organize the Northern Forest Alliance, more than 40 organizations working to preserve open space, sustainable forests, and wildlands.
Achievements during the Obama Administration
- The Wilderness Society was instrumental in the passage of the Public Lands Omnibus Act (2009), which added wilderness areas in nine states to the wilderness system.
- TWS successfully persuaded the government to protect sensitive habitat for caribou and other wildlife in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska from oil and gas drilling, and helped move a bill to Congress to protect the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
- The organization won a multi-year struggle to protect Alaska's Izembek Wildlife Refuge, and its internationally significant wetlands, from a road construction project that would have set a precedent for construction within federally designated wilderness.
- It helped add designations of new national monuments, including: New Mexico's Rio Grande del Norte; Washington's San Juan Islands, Colorado's Chimney Rock and California's Fort Ord, which includes 15,000 acres of coastal oak woodlands, marine chaparral and grasslands.
- It rolled back numerous G.W. Bush-era oil and gas leases around Arches National Park and other wild Utah red rock lands.
- It successfully pushed the U.S. Bureau of Land Management to institute significant oil and gas leasing reforms, including a new planning tool, called a Master Leasing Plan, which requires a full examination of a landscape for all of its values before determining how oil and gas development can occur.
Major issues and campaigns
Expanding Protections for Public Wildlands
The Wilderness Society is a leader in mobilizing public support for legislation that protects public lands through special wildlands designations. This includes adding new wilderness areas and national monuments into our public lands systems.
- Wilderness Designation
- The Wilderness Society mobilizes local and national support for legislation that adds unspoiled public lands to the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Wilderness Society’s regional offices work with local, grassroots groups to develop wilderness bills that can be introduced by members of Congress. They then help move the legislation through Congress to the White House. A wilderness designation is the highest form of protection the government can give to any public land. Under the Wilderness Act, designated wilderness areas are protected, permanently, from new development, commercial activities, and motorized vehicles.
- As of 2014, the wilderness system contained more than 109 million acres of protected wilderness lands, with more than 750 wilderness areas throughout the nation. The Wilderness Society has played a part in almost every major addition to the National Wilderness Preservation System. It was also one of the lead organizations involved in the last major expansion of the wilderness system, the 2009 Omnibus Public Lands Act. This sweeping package of wilderness bills protected more than 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states and thousands of miles of rivers in the wild and scenic river system.
- Monuments Designation
- The Wilderness Society works closely with local communities to advance efforts to protect unique wild places and historical sites as national monuments. In 2013, the organization helped win designations Rio Grande del Norte National Monument in New Mexico and the San Juan Islands in Washington. Recently, the organization has come to the defense of the the Antiquities Act, which has come under attack by some factions in Congress. The Antiquities Act is the mechanism by which the president of the United States can designate new national monuments.
Guiding Energy Development
The Wilderness Society supports steps to create clean energy, transitioning the nation away from the fossil fuels that contribute to climate change. The organization is a leader in identifying sensitive public lands and wildlife habitats that need protection from energy development and in guiding such energy development to more appropriate lands where less damage can be done to fragile ecosystems and recreation landscapes.
Responsible Oil and Gas Development
- The Wilderness Society works to guide oil and gas drilling away from the nation’s most sensitive wildlands. The organization is concerned about the impacts oil and gas drilling is known to have on wild areas, including habitat fragmentation, water and air pollution, toxic oil spills, noise pollution and overall spoiled beauty. As such, they mobilize their supporters and local communities in advocacy campaigns to protect places like national parks, wildlife refuges, wilderness study areas and other unspoiled lands from being drilled. They have identified a list of most at-risk wild places in their 2013 Too Wild To Drill report.
- One of the most at-risk areas that The Wilderness Society works to protect is Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, known as the crown jewel of the refuge system and America's last, great frontier. Currently, no drilling is allowed in the refuge's fragile Arctic ecosystem, however the oil lobby in Washington, D.C., has pressured Congress to open the refuge for decades. The Wilderness Society has helped move a bill to Congress that would designate the coastal plain of the refuge as wilderness. As of 2014, the bill was awaiting passage.
- In addition to guiding drilling away from sensitive wild places, the organization has been successful in urging the government to reform oil and gas leasing policies, so that oil and gas development is balanced with other public land uses, including conservation.
- Renewable Energy
- The Wilderness Society works to ensure that public and private lands can accommodate renewable energy development without undermining healthy landscapes and wildlife. The organization works with the Department of the Interior to guide renewable energy projects to lands that have already been used and steer them away from sensitive areas with environmental or cultural resources. They believe that energy development on US public lands should focus on degraded areas close to existing roads and power lines to reduce potential conflicts and expedite the permitting of projects.
Inspiring Americans to Protect Wildlands
Part of The Wilderness Society’s mission is to educate the public on the values of wilderness. Recreation is only one of the benefits; others include cleaner air and water, high-quality wildlife habitat. To ensure that Wilderness has a future generation of advocates, The Wilderness Society launched an ambitious campaign to build the ranks of new wilderness supporters in 2013. This included the Go Outside and Play Campaign and the expansion of Great Outdoors America Week in Washington D.C., a week-long event focusing on political advocacy, youth outreach and celebration of the great outdoors. They are engaged in a number of partnerships that support efforts to reengage communities in the outdoors through projects like the National Outdoor Leadership Schools' Expedition Denali Inspiration Tour.
The Ansel Adams Collection
Renowned landscape photographer Ansel Adams was deeply involved with The Wilderness Society. Before his death in 1984, Adams selected 75 of his iconic images as a gift to the organization. The national headquarters building in Washington, D.C., now houses the Ansel Adams Collection of the original, signed Ansel Adams photographs. The collection is open to the public at 1615 M St., NW., Washington, D.C.
The Wilderness Society gives out several awards annually. The Ansel Adams Award, named for photographer and conservationist Ansel Adams, is awarded to a current or former federal official who has been a fervent advocate of conservation. The Robert Marshall Award, the Society's most prestigious award, is named in honor of one of its founders, and its first recipient was Sigurd F. Olson in 1981.
- Stephen Fox, John Muir and His Legacy: The American Conservation Movement (Boston: Little Brown, 1981), pp. 206–212.
- The Wilderness Society Official Website
- The Wilderness Society Official Facebook Page
- The Wilderness Society Official Twitter Feed
- The Wilderness Society Official Pinterest Board
- Wilderness.net, information about wilderness, stewardship, scientific information, agency policies, and relevant legislation.
- Wilderness Land Trust, purchases private land (inholdings) in existing and proposed wilderness areas.
- National Landscape Conservation System, charged with the conservation and preservation of 26 million acres (105,000 km²) of public lands.