Into the Wild

History of the Wilderness Act

On September 3, 1964, President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law, protecting 9.1 million acres of the country’s wildest places for generations to come. The landmark conservation law now protects more than 111 million acres of land, with over 20 million acres managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s National Wildlife Refuge System. Wilderness Areas designated by congress possess the highest protection granted to federal lands

What is Wilderness?

The Act defines wilderness as, “…an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”. 


So, what does this mean? It means that most human activities are prohibited in wilderness areas: no roads, motorized vehicles or equipment, commercial development, or structures are allowed. These restrictions, and others, ensure that designated areas remain generally unhindered by visitors.

Blackbeard Island National Wildlife Refuge

Blackbeard Island Wilderness

In 1975, 3000 acres of the refuge were designated as National Wilderness. The Blackbeard Island Wilderness Area features a scenic trail that leads visitors through a lush maritime forest of live oak and palmetto and along a stretch of isolated, white sandy beach. 

Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge (USDA)

Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge

Some wilderness areas, like Wolf Island National Wildlife Refuge, are closed to the public entirely. Wolf Island provides critical sanctuary for rare migrating birds and nursery habitat for sea turtles. Over 75% of the refuge is saltwater marsh.

Indigenous peoples throughout North American had been conducting controlled burns of lands they inhabited for thousands of years prior to European settlement. These burns kept the forests healthy and productive, and all but eliminated the threat of catastrophic wildfire. 

Indigenous Peoples and Wilderness

When learning about federally designated wilderness areas, it is important to recognize the perspectives of the Indigenous peoples who have been land stewards for thousands of years.  Most environments we deem natural today have been influenced by native residents  throughout time, which means few places on the planet are truly untouched by man. The role Indigenous peoples have played in shaping America’s landscapes, including areas protected by the Wilderness Act, demonstrate that humans and nature are not mutually exclusive but interconnected.   

Wild Wild Trivia

Which of the following statements is true?

The importance of this small refuge to shorebirds like these nesting American oystercatchers is why the beach, marshes and uplands of Wolf Island NWR remain closed to all public entry.
Since chainsaws are not permitted for use within a wilderness area, hand saws must be used to cut trees that fall across the trail.