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Wilderness Character

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The overarching legal mandate of the Wilderness Act is to preserve the wilderness character of each area in the National Wilderness Preservation System. Preserving wilderness character is the essential key to keeping alive the very meaning of Wilderness in America. Despite its statutory importance, the concept of wilderness character is not defined in the Wilderness Act, although the Act refers to it repeatedly. Section 4(b) of the Act explicitly mandates that managing agencies “shall be responsible for preserving the Wilderness character of the area and shall so administer such area for such other purposes for which it may have been established as also to preserve its wilderness character.”

Historical records clearly demonstrate that Wilderness Act visionaries believed that wilderness character consists of both tangible, physical components as well as intangible, psychological and spiritual components.

Some tangible components of wilderness character include the presence of native wildlife at naturally occurring population levels; lack of human structures, roads, motor vehicles or mechanized equipment, lack of crowding or large groups; few or no human improvements for visitor convenience such as highly engineered and over-developed trails, developed campsites, signs, or bridges, and little or no sign of biophysical damage caused by visitor use, such as trampled or denuded ground, tree limbs cut for camp use, or habituated or displaced wildlife.

Some intangible components of wilderness character include solitude; immediacy; opportunities for reflection; freedom; risk, adventure, and mystery; places where safety is a personal responsibility; untrammeled, wild and self-willed, where natural processes occur without intentional human interference; uncommodified, not for sale and commercial-free; opportunities for full self-reliance; opportunities for humans to experience our connection to the larger community of life; places that forever remain in contrast to modern civilization, its technologies, and contrivances.

Credit to our allies Wilderness Watch for the above material.

Learn more about Wilderness and the wilderness areas in our mission area.