The Boone and Crockett Club is joining outdoor enthusiasts across the country in commemorating the 50th Anniversary of a true milestone in conservation and one of America's best ideas - the Wilderness Act.
On Sept. 3, 1964, with several Boone and Crockett Club leaders in attendance, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the legislation protecting millions of acres and establishing legal definitions of wilderness for future designations. (During the same ceremony, Johnson also signed legislation creating the Land and Water Conservation Fund.) Behind the signing, however, were eight years of hard work, over 60 drafts of the bill and strong support from politically active hunters including many Club members.
The crusade for wilderness actually began much earlier. In 1935, renowned Boone and Crockett member Aldo Leopold, along with activist Bob Marshall and others, founded the Wilderness Society to protect unspoiled lands and foster an American land ethic.
Today, more than 109 million acres - five percent of the land in the U.S. - are officially designated as wilderness.
"The sanctity and preservation of wilderness defines our national character," said Lowell Baier, president emeritus of the Boone and Crockett Club. "Every wilderness area today exists because of individuals who had personal connections to the place, were moved by its natural beauty and wild spirit, who understood what it meant for wildlife and outdoor lifestyles, and who were committed to fighting to keep it intact."
He added, "The Wilderness Act represents a level of grassroots conservation accomplishment that is really quite rare. Even more rare are conservation topics that unite hunters, non-hunters and even anti-hunters - but celebrating the historic success of the Wilderness Act is one of those."
Every year from 1964 to 2010, Congress added lands to America's wilderness system.
However, since 2010, no new wilderness areas have been designated, and Congress has failed to fully fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund.
Baier worries these failures are another clear signal that America's long connections to wildlife and wild places are eroding.
It took nearly 350 years from the time of Columbus' landing for pioneers to reach and settle California. Driven by the quest to tame the wilderness, we altered the landscapes in our path and fueled our conquest with the era's abundant wildlife. The Wilderness Act guaranteed a different future for select remnants of what was once all wild country.
It represented Americans' ultimate desire to leave natural treasures to inspire future generations. It provided our country with landscape-scale monuments to the land ethic for which so many conservationists dedicated their lives.
"Its successes are worth not only celebrating, but growing," said Baier.
Far Right: Stuart Udall, former Secretary of the Interior and Boone and Crockett Member.