Are you one of those people, like me, who sometimes daydreams about dropping out of sight? In as much as I appreciate modern technology and the benefits of living in a somewhat compassionate society, there is an urge to put it all behind me for awhile.
I fantasize about disappearing soon, before the technology of big brother snooping and private investigation becomes even more invasive. Just the act of posting these thoughts on the Web is like slamming the door on the possibility of socially vanishing.
Yet many of us hunger for a richer personal life that involves more than working a meaningless occupation to pay overpriced housing and living expenses, car payments, stuff to keep up with the Jones that we really don’t need. Even if we don’t live in a crowded city with busy streets and expressways and the hassles of living in close proximity to thousands of other people, we sometimes need to get away from it all for awhile.
Just as humans must have air, water, food, and shelter, we need to know that there are still wild, undeveloped places for us. It is this knowing and wisdom that motivated the Wilderness Act of 1964.
After about eight years of planning, compromise, and discussion, the Act was signed into law by President Lyndon Johnson on September 3, 1964. “An Act to establish a National Wilderness Preservation System for the permanent good of the whole people, and for other purposes.”
The intentions are expressed in the body of section 2 of the law:
“In order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions, leaving no lands designated for preservation and protection in their natural condition, it is hereby declared to be the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness. For this purpose there is hereby established a National Wilderness Preservation System…”
That said, the designation and changing of status of wilderness lands is relegated to the US Congress. These special areas are specified only within existing federal public land. We know, all too well, that Congress oftentimes reverses course and rescinds conservation promises in the interests of the highest bidder or most generous re-election campaign contributors.
This is why people who advocate for wilderness areas must keep abreast of actions that threaten our wild areas. We can support groups that keep tabs on the agencies that oversee the Wilderness Act’s aims: The Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the National Park Service.
Official wilderness areas prohibit permanent roads and commercial development aside from serving recreational and preservation of the areas. The only exceptions are for human safety and health, fire-fighting, control of insect infestations, and protection of property. The vagueness of the language means that citizen watchdog groups play an important part of preserving these official wilderness lands.
Aside from the desire to provide “solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation”, the Wilderness Act understands the need for ecological, geological, scientific, and historical importance of the wild. Wilderness areas are important habitat for threatened and endangered plant and animal species.
Today’s crowded, polluted world makes it more evident that we need the open spaces, forest lands, silence, biodiversity, and preservation of the ecosystems of our nation. Certainly, there is no monetary value to what wilderness areas give us, regarding a sense of hope, inner renewal, curiosity, and inspiration. We know how important these values are, regardless of whether we actually set foot into the wilderness.
Thankfully, for now, we have a legal mechanism in place to help ensure that the U.S. will have wilderness areas. Let’s make sure the Act is never given short shrift or repealed.