50th Anniversary Of The Wilderness Act Sparks Conversation, Idaho Lecture Series

Jul 11, 2014

The Sawtooth Wilderness is a rugged landscape in Central Idaho.
Credit Greg Dusic / U.S. Forest Service

Fifty years ago, the Wilderness Act was signed into law, setting aside large areas of land in their natural state. Today, almost 110 million acres have been designated as wilderness by the U.S. Congress.

Idaho is celebrating the milestone with a lecture series in the shadow of the Sawtooth Wilderness Area, sandwiched between Atlanta and Stanley.

As a wilderness program coordinator for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area, Liese Dean spends much of her time outdoors. She says Idahoans are proud of their heritage and value their freedom and independence. “That relies on having some wild places," says Dean. "Wild places to go to, wild places to know you have them there, so wilderness has been really important to the state.”

Since President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, the amount of wild space in Idaho protected from roads, vehicles, and development has grown. There are 12 wilderness areas in the state, totaling 5 million acres.

Congress designated the Sawtooth Wilderness in 1972. It totals 217,088 acres of wild land.
Credit Greg Dusic / U.S. Forest Service

Dean says it’s important to remind people about how the Wilderness Act has preserved wild places. “Getting people to think about these landscapes and to think about what they mean to us as a people and to think about how wilderness affects them in their lives, whether or not they’ll ever visit wilderness.”

Every year, the Sawtooth Interpretive and Historical Association hosts a summer lecture series in Stanley. On this 50th anniversary of the act, Executive Director Terry Clark says the focus is on the Wilderness Act's legacy. “It was a major step forward for people to try to protect land for its inherent value and to try to preserve some areas in the country that would be more or less as they would have been if people hadn’t come in and developed them.”

The lectures will take place every Friday in July and August. Speakers will cover topics including fire, animals, habitat, and the life of a wilderness ranger. The lectures are free and open to everyone. 

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