The 1964 Wilderness Act established the National
Wilderness Preservation System to acknowledge, protect,
and manage designated wilderness, and to create a
process whereby Congress could designate and protect
public land as “Wilderness.”
One of the first leaders of preservation was John
Muir (1838-1914), who was the founder and first
president of the Sierra Club. Through his writings,
and activism, he contributed to the protection of many of our National Parks.
Aldo Leopold (1887-1948) was inspired by Muir. In
1924, prior to the signing of the Act, Leopold
prompted the USDA Forest Service to recognize 574,000
of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico as “Wilderness.” This was
the first area to be recognized as such in the United States. In 1935, Leopold
partnered with Bob Marshall (1901-1939) to create The Wilderness Society, and
it was Marshall’s intent that America’s wilderness be protected
by federal law.
Several years after Marshall’s untimely death, Howard Zahniser (1906-1964)
filled Marshall’s void and became the executive director of the Wilderness
Society in 1945, which consisted of a staff of two.
By 1956, Zahniser had drafted a bill to protect America’s wilderness.
In that same year, the bill was introduced into the Senate. After eight years
debate and 66 bill revisions, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Wilderness
Act into law on September 3, 1964.