The Future of Wilderness

A special section from the September/October 2014 issue of Orion

In a famous letter advocating for the preservation of wilderness, Wallace Stegner called it “the geography of hope.” Stegner was among a group of conservationists who spent years making a case for setting such land aside. In 1964, four years after he wrote those words, the Wilderness Act was passed by Congress. The idea was to create a higher level of protection than other public land designations provided, setting aside relatively untouched tracts so that natural processes could unfold without human interference. Today, there are 758 wilderness areas in the United States and Puerto Rico, many of which are situated inside or alongside national parks and national forests. The Wilderness Act specifies that these are places where “man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” In wilderness, we practice the highest form of restraint, leaving our human conceits and trappings behind. Wilderness is a place we go to meet the land on its own terms. On the fiftieth anniversary of the Wilderness Act, the editors of Orion asked a handful of contributors to explore what wilderness means today, and what the future may hold for these extraordinary places.

“The Wilderness Paradox,” by Jordan Fisher Smith
“Desegregating Wilderness,” by Jourdan Imani Keith
“Taming the Wilderness,” by Christopher Ketcham
“The Ever-Changing Wilderness,” photographs by Mark Klett and Byron Wolfe
“The Glorious Indifference of Wilderness,” by Terry Tempest Williams

Orion is a sponsor of the National Wilderness Conference, to be held from October 15 – 19 in New Mexico. Learn more about the conference here.

A series of personal perspectives on wilderness, written by park rangers, wilderness activists, scientists, and others, appears at the Orion blog.