Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
U.S. Wilderness Area
A United States Wilderness Area within federal lands is set aside by the 1964 Wilderness Act as a nature preserve. Human activities in wilderness areas are restricted to scientific study, hiking and camping; horses are permitted but mechanized vehicles and equipment are not. Mechanized equipment includes unmotorized equipment, such as bicycles.
The National Wilderness Preservation System coordinates the wilderness activities of four federal agencies - Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Wilderness areas are parts of national parks, wildlife refuges, national forests and may include land in several different units managed by different agencies. There are 662 wilderness areas in the U.S., preserving 105 million acres (430,000 km2). This is approximately five percent of the entire United States. Wilderness areas exist in 44 of the 50 states.
Some state and tribal governments also designate wilderness areas under their own authority and local laws. These are not federal areas and the exact nature of protection may differ from federal laws.
Most U.S. wilderness areas are in National Forests but the largest amount of wilderness land is administered by the National Park Service. The largest contiguous wilderness complex in the United States is the Noatak and Gates of the Arctic Wildernesses in Alaska at 12,743,329 acres (51,570 km); the largest wilderness area outside Alaska is the Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Area in central Idaho.
A special exemption to the "no mechanized equipment" rule is made for wilderness areas in Alaska: motorized vehicles and construction of cabins and aquaculture are permitted . These exemptions were allowed due to the large amount of wilderness in Alaska.
Wilderness in the United States has become controversial, particularly since the 1980s. Proponents of wilderness see it as the best way to preserve unmodified ecosystems, while opponents see it as a restriction on personal liberties (due to the exclusion of mechanized transportation).
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