Wilderness and the National Forest

Historians point to the 1924 designation of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico as the first time "wilderness" was explicitly named and protected. From these beginnings, national forest lands and U.S. Forest Service employees have played a critical role in the identification, management, and protection of wilderness in the United States. Of the 105 million acres in 628 units now counted in the National Wilderness Preservation System, nearly 35 million acres on 400 units occur on national forest lands.

The following pages offer a glimpse of the changing views and rhetoric regarding wilderness that have played across the stages of public opinion and policy-making in the past eight decades.