The Wilderness Society (United States)

The Wilderness Society (United States)

The Wilderness Society is an American organization that is dedicated to protecting America's wilderness. It was formed in 1935 and currently has over 300,000 members and supporters.


The 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, Harvey Broome, Bernard Frank, and Harold C. Anderson.


In addition to helping establish the National Wilderness Preservation System in 1964 under the leadership of Howard Zahniser, TWS has played a leadership role in virtually every major public land issue since its founding. 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 106 million acres (429,000 km²). The Society is committed to the growth of this system so that America's most significant public wildlands can be protected forever.

The Wilderness Society specializes in the issues involving the 26 percent of the United States that belongs to all Americans: national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, and the western 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.”

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.

With the help of partners, 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 Lands Act (1980)
* Tongass Timber Reform Act (1990)
* California Desert Protection Act (1994)
* National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act (1997)

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.

Major Issues and Campaigns


TWS is a leader in mobilizing public support for legislation adding public lands to the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). Its Wilderness Support Center in Durango, Colorado, works hand in hand with grassroots groups in scores of states to develop bills that can be introduced by members of Congress and then help move the legislation through Congress to the White House. Under the Wilderness Act, lands that become part of the NWPS are protected, forever, from new development, commercial activities, and motorized vehicles. This is the highest form of protection for federal lands. As of August 2006, the NWPS contained more than 106 million acres (429,000 km²). Part of TWS’ 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, and the medicines for tomorrow, many of which will be derived from natural substances.

Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

TWS supports addition of the 1.5 million acre (6000 km²) coastal plain of the Arctic Refuge to the NWPS. This area provides habitat vital to more than 250 animal species, including wolves, grizzlies, caribou, and millions of migrating birds. The overriding threat to the refuge is oil drilling, and TWS has been in the vanguard of the long-term fight to block passage of legislation that would allow drilling. The best solution is to pass a bill making the coastal plain a wilderness area and thus off-limits to oil development. Such legislation has been introduced but has yet to attract majority support.

Off-Road Vehicle Use

The Wilderness Society works to address the growing problems caused by poorly regulated off-road vehicle use on public lands and waters. Off-road vehicles include dirt bikes, dune buggies, ATVs, and other such vehicles.

Roadless Areas

The Roadless Area Conservation Rule was an executive order that President William Clinton signed shortly before he left office and was adopted by the U.S. Forest Service in early 2001. The rule seeks to conserve unprotected wildlands in our national forests by preventing most commercial logging and road construction. An elderly Mardy Murie was present at the White House when Clinton signed the order. The act solidified Clinton's reputation as a great environmental president. At issue are 58.5 million acres (236,000 km²), located in 42 states, but primarily in the West. Within 24 hours of taking office, President Bush’s appointees began their campaign, with the timber industry, to undo this new rule. In May 2005, the Bush administration repealed the Roadless Rule, replacing it with a process that allows governors to petition the Forest Service for protection of the national forest roadless lands within their states, but giving the federal government the power to reject the petitions.

Eastern Forests

Today, forests in the East are recovering from the clear cutting of the early and mid-20th century. Meanwhile, they are threatened by unsustainable logging, energy extraction, poorly planned growth and sprawl, irresponsible ORV use, and other activities. TWS, along with local partners, works to preserve the remaining wild places within the Eastern Forests.

Energy Development

TWS supports steps to create a secure energy future for America, one that rids the nation of its dependence on fossil fuels. TWS believes that those steps include greater energy efficiency (including vehicles that go farther on a gallon of gas) and investment in renewable and clean energy sources. A nation that consumes 25% of the world’s oil but holds only three percent of the total supply cannot drill its way to energy security.

National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS)

The NLCS, established in 2000, encompasses the crown jewels of lands overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management. These 62 million acres (250,000 km²) include wilderness areas, wild and scenic rivers, and an array of other protection lands. TWS is a leader in a coalition that is committed to raising public awareness of these natural treasures, increasing the funds available to manage them, and encouraging the BLM to protect them. Much of this land deserves to become part of the NWPS. Learn more about the NLCS at

Other TWS issues

* Budget and Appropriations []
* National Environmental Policy Act []
* Wildfire []
* National Wildlife Refuges []
* Revised Statute 2477 []

External links

* [ The Wilderness Society Official Website]
* [] , 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.

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