This Article considers the past and possible future of the effort to provide legal protection for tracts of federal lands under the umbrella of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Because legal protection comes through the political process, the task requires examining the politics of wilderness. Therefore, the Article spends considerable time looking at the political forces that led up to enactment of the Wilderness Act of 1964, and have shaped its implementation in the half-century that has followed. It explores the political compromises contained in the Wilderness Act, and how these have worked out in practice. It discusses how the legal meaning of wilderness has been shaped since enactment, and how successful the idea of legally protecting wild values has been. It also puts the Wilderness Act in the broader context of changes in federal land management policy since 1964. For example, whereas in 1964 wilderness designation was just about the only reasonably secure way to protect land from road building and other forms of intensive development, today many legal tools are available to accomplish it. Finally, the Article discusses current and likely future challenges to wilderness protection, some but not all of which stem from a destabilizing climate. The cumulative effect of these and other factors identified in the paper has already slowed down expansion of the National Wilderness Preservation System, and will likely continue to do so. Nevertheless, the System stands as a monumental achievement, expressing some of the more high-minded objectives of American political culture.
Eagle Cap Wilderness, Oregon (Lake Wallpapers)