What is Wilderness?
Federally designated wilderness areas, collectively, the National Wilderness Preservation System, are the most protected public lands in the United States. The first wilderness area in America, the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico, was created administratively by the Forest Service in 1924. In 1964, the United States Congress passed the Wilderness Act initially protecting 54 areas (9.1 million acres) as wilderness. Today, the NWPS consists of 803 wilderness areas (111.7 million acres) across 44 states and Puerto Rico. Wilderness areas are overlayed upon the traditional homelands of American Indian Tribes and Alaska Natives. Consequently, today, wilderness is part national and tribal identity and provides myriad benefits to all Americans from spiritual renewal and recreation opportunity, to clean air and water, wildlife habitat, and food and economic security.
Four Federal land management bureaus, Bureau of Land Management (BLM), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), National Park Service (NPS), and U.S. Forest Service (FS), under two federal departments—the Department of the Interior and the Department of Agriculture—are responsible for managing the NWPS.