Forty-five years ago this month, President Lyndon B. Johnson sat down in the Rose Garden and signed the Wilderness Act. It established 9.1 million acres of designated wilderness in the U.S.”A wilderness” the act states,”in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized 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.”In the nearly half-century since LBJ defined wilderness, the amount of protected official wilderness has expanded more than tenfold. There are now 109 million such American acres protected (though about half of that is in Alaska).Colorado boasts about 3.4 million acres of that land — a little over 5 percent of the state’s total mass. In the White River National Forest, which surrounds Aspen, Snowmass and the Roaring Fork Valley, there are currently about 750,000 acres of wilderness out of 2.2 million total forest acreage.
Within designated wilderness, the act prohibits commercial enterprise, buildings, roads, motor vehicles and motorized boats, aircraft and calls for ìno other form of mechanical transport.” The last prohibition means outdoor pastimes like hiking, camping, skiing, horseback-riding, fishing and hunting are OK. Modern outdoor activities like snowmobiling, four-wheeling, and mountain biking are prohibited.A coalition of environmental groups are currently working on a proposal that would expand designated wilderness in the White River and Gunnison national forests by more than 400,000 acres. They are hoping to bring it to Washington by the end of this year and eventually get the land protected through an act of Congress, under the Wilderness Act.
By Andrew Travers, Sept. 20, 09, Aspen Daily News
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