The Wilderness Act Turns 40

Today marks the 40th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, passed with overwhelming bipartisan support and signed by Lyndon Johnson in 1964. Some 9 million acres were designated wilderness upon passage; 106 million acres are protected under the act today. Jimmy Carter signed the most land into wilderness, with 66.3 million acres; Reagan accounted for 10.6 million, Clinton 9.5 million. George W. Bush has designated the least, just under 530,000 acres. While the act’s continuing popularity means even its enemies stop short of calling for repeal, many conservative Western officials — and, some critics say, President Bush — have attempted to slow the expansion of wilderness. Bush’s repeal of Clinton’s roadless-area protections is seen by some as an effort to have roads built on some land that might otherwise be eligible for wilderness protection.