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The West 2000 Page 3

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In our times, Aldo Leopold and his “Almanac” is more frequently quoted by environmentalists than Henry David Thoreau or even John Muir. Leopold had been both a farmer and a forest ranger. It was in large part through his efforts that portions of the Gila National Forest in New Mexico were designated as the nation’s first wilderness area by administrative action of the U.S. Forest Service in 1924. There were similar administrative acts that would expand wilderness and primitive areas to about 15 million acres by the time the United States was entering its post World War II economic expansion. It was just about then, in 1948, and shortly after his death fighting a grass fire in Wisconsin, that Leopold’s only published work, the “Almanac,” was produced. It became an epistle for preservation that would inspire creation of the Wilderness Society and adherents to a belief in preserving the wild all over the world. Yet as much as he in his work blamed economic expansion and “Henry Ford” for destruction of the wild, Leopold and others of his time held no illusions about theirs being a spiritually inspiring, but little practiced, desire for a return to the primitive. Least of all did he expect the government to take on a task, “too large, too complex, or too widely dispersed” in dividing the land between its natural presence and its ultimate use.

Preservation System and reserving to Congress theauthority to designate areas suggested for their wilderness potential. Fifty-four areas covering nine million acres of U.S. Forest Service land were immediately set aside.

By 1968, with the impetus of “legacy” lands deriving from political sponsorship, Congress began expanding the Wilderness System, bringing it to 631 areas covering nearly 144 million acres by 1994, more than 10 times the amount of designated wilderness known to Leopold in his time.


Propelled in part by a nascent environmental movement that did not trust federal agencies to protect wildlands through administrative action, the U.S. Congress in 1964 passed the National Wilderness Act, establishing a National Wilderness


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Git Home! | The West 2000 Page 1

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