WASHINGTON -- Planning efforts for the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act marked an important milestone today at a signing ceremony of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to raise awareness of the benefits and values of wilderness. Leaders of federal land management joined national wilderness organizations in formally committing to spotlighting and celebrating the nation’s wilderness in the months leading up to the anniversary -- September 3, 2014.
"We have been fortunate to have lived 48 years of the vision proclaimed by the Act that it is 'the policy of the Congress to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness,'" said Chad P. Dawson of the Society for Wilderness Stewardship (SWS), the organization representing wilderness NGOs that are part of the 50th Anniversary National Planning Team. "Our celebration is a renewal of that vision and our promise to those generations yet unborn."
The National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) now encompasses 109 million acres across 44 states and Puerto Rico, and each year more than 12 million people visit wilderness areas to hunt, hike, camp, fish, birdwatch, take pictures, stargaze, and more.
The MOU documents the cooperation among the federal agencies, SWS, and members of the national planning team "to preserve the wilderness character of NWPS lands, expand the awareness of the general public about wilderness and its benefits, increase public engagement and participation in wilderness stewardship, and ensure the protection of wilderness areas as an enduring resource for present and future generations."
Vicky Hoover, co-chair of the 50th Anniversary National Planning Team and longtime Sierra Club activist, served as master of ceremonies at the event. Speakers included Dawson; Ed Zahniser, a National Park Service employee and son of Howard Zahniser, the father of the Wilderness Act; Mike Pool, Acting Director of the Bureau of Land Management; Rowan Gould, Deputy Director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service; Leanne Marten, Associate Deputy Chief of the U.S. Forest Service; and Peggy O’Dell, Deputy Director for Operations at the National Park Service.
"The 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act is such an exciting opportunity to engage the public for wilderness -- especially in this technological era when connections between wilderness and the next generation are diminishing," said Hoover. "So through awareness, education and stewardship, we'll reinforce America's connections with wilderness and celebrate not just for a day, or even a month, but for the full year 2014."
Locally, for the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act Friends of Allegheny Wilderness and Warren's Crary Art Gallery are teaming up to plan a month-long photography installation for September of 2014 featuring high-profile photographers and stunning photographs taken within units all across America's pristine National Wilderness Preservation System.
Pictured,Kirk Johnson of Warren, executive director for the Friends of Allegheny Wilderness; Ed Zahniser of Shepherdstown, WV, son of Tionesta native & Wilderness Act author Howard Zahniser, and senior writer with the National Park Service; and Leanne Marten, former forest supervisor for Pennsylvania's Allegheny National Forest, and currently the national director for Wilderness and Wild & Scenic Rivers for the U.S. Forest Service.