This September we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and also our nearby and much loved Bob Marshall and Cabinet Mountains Wilderness Areas. The Act was passed in 1964 by a unanimous vote of Congress “for the permanent good of the whole people”, as stated in its opening line.
The Act protected 9.1 million acres of land in 54 areas in 13 states, including the Bob and the Cabinets, and set up a system for adding additional wild public lands by Congressional action. Legendary Idaho Sen. Frank Church remarked, “The vanishing wilderness is part of our western heritage. We westerners have known the wilds during our lifetimes, and we must see to it that our grandchildren are not denied the same rich experience during theirs.”
Many, many people have journeyed into these wonderful areas and felt uplifted and renewed by reconnecting with the marvels of untrammeled nature. “Wilderness to the people of America is a spiritual necessity, an antidote to the high pressure of modern life” observed author Sigurd Olson.
The Wilderness Act has been lauded by people as diverse as Dick Cheney and former Montana Sen. Lee Metcalf as one of the most inspiring and successful pieces of congressional legislation of all time. The United States is unique in the world for our vision and commitment to protect some of the precious wild country that formed our character as a nation.
The Act sets forth a process where certain special pieces of wild public lands can be designated and managed to preserve their wilderness character. As we celebrate the anniversary of this act, we also think ahead into the future.
There is a strong and growing consensus that the two wilderness bills now before Congress deserve to be passed – the Rocky Mountain Front Heritage Act and the Forest Jobs and Recreation Act. Additional, nearby areas including the rugged Scotchman Peaks Proposed Wilderness and some of the wild lands contiguous to the Cabinets also deserve protection for the benefit of future generations. A wonderful goal, and a wonderful gift for the future, is the idea that our elected representatives can work together to recognize and protect some of these precious places as part of our Montana heritage.
Doug Ferrell serves as Chairman of the Board of the Friends of Scotchman Peaks. He is a past president of the Montana Wilderness Association.
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