California leads the nation in protecting wild places.

That's why today we salute the Wilderness Act of 1964!

The highest level of protection afforded to natural areas in the United States is embodied in the Wilderness Act of 1964, signed into law 50 years ago today (Sept. 3) by President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Forests Forever salutes the landmark law, which was the result of years of struggle against fierce opposition. Federal lands protected under the Wilderness Act are poetically defined as areas “where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

California leads the nation in the number and extent of designated wilderness areas, with 149 wilderness units accounting for 19 percent of the U.S. total.

Thus the Golden State boasts the John Muir Wilderness, the Trinity Alps Wilderness, the Mokelumne Wilderness, The Mt. Shasta Wilderness and many other iconic lands treasured for the depth and breadth of their natural beauty, ecological integrity and solitude. Many if not most of the nation’s designated wilderness acres are forested. No motor vehicles or chain saws may pierce the quietude of wilderness areas. Logging, mining, roadbuilding and development are prohibited.

For many Americans, preserving wilderness goes hand in hand with preserving the American psyche. For author Edward Abbey, wilderness represented nothing less than liberation. “It is my fear,” he wrote, “that if we allow the freedom of the hills and of the wilderness to be taken from us, then the very idea of freedom may be taken with it.”

Henry David Thoreau, whom Abbey revered, put it even more concisely: “In wildness is the preservation of the world."

Let us remember, appreciate, and celebrate the Wilderness Act!

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For a list of all U.S. and California wilderness areas, visit

Read Holly Shok's profile of The Wilderness Society’s Howard Zahniser and his fight for the Wilderness Act here.

For San Francisco Bay Area residents especially, consider attending the 50th anniversary celebration in Vallejo Sept. 3-6:

A larger celebration of the Wilderness Act is being held in Albuquerque on Oct. 15-19:

A Gallery of Just Some of California’s Forested Wilderness Areas.

See also: an interactive map of US wilderness system.


Forests Forever:
Their Ecology, Restoration, and Protection
John J. Berger

from Forests Forever Foundation
and the Center for American Places