What Is Wilderness? - Definition, Problems & Preservation

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  • 0:05 Wilderness
  • 0:54 The Wilderness Act
  • 4:35 Area of Concern for Wilderness
  • 6:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Rebecca Gillaspy

Dr. Gillaspy has taught health science at University of Phoenix and Ashford University and has a degree from Palmer College of Chiropractic.

The wilderness is the last untamed land found on earth. It remains undeveloped by man and serves as a refuge for wildlife. Learn about the wilderness, the law enacted to preserve it and the problems that wilderness areas face.


Imagine a land uninhabited by man; a place of undisturbed beauty and wildness; a place where man is not necessarily at the top of the food chain; a place where animals live that have never been classified in books; strange creatures that only your imagination could dream up; a place without cars, without schedules, and without time.

For some, this is an intimidating and scary place. For others, this is paradise. But for all of us, this is the wilderness. In this lesson, you will learn about these wild and rarely touched areas of the world. You will also discover what is being done to protect these areas as well as problems they face.

The Wilderness Act

Wilderness is an undisturbed tract of land that man does not control and has not developed. The wilderness makes up some of the most untamed natural environments on earth. These areas can truly be thought of as the last remaining wild places that humans have not invaded with signs of modern civilization, such as roads, power lines, and pipelines.

In 1964, The Wilderness Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The Wilderness Act formally designated areas in the U.S. as wilderness and sought to ensure that the growing population and increasing number of settlements did not dominate all areas within the United States. Therefore, guaranteeing that some areas would be left alone for preservation and protection in their undisturbed and natural state.

The Wilderness Act also created The National Wilderness Preservation System that protects U.S. wilderness areas for the long-term preservation of their natural condition. In the United States, 757 areas are designated as wilderness and encompass over 109 million acres in 44 states and Puerto Rico.

Any activities on federally designated wilderness areas are coordinated by the National Wilderness Preservation System, and these areas are managed by four national federal land management agencies, which include the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and the U.S. Forest Service.

While man does not directly use wilderness areas for activities, such as logging or industrial processes, there are valuable uses of wilderness. Having designated wilderness areas protects wildlife habitats and ensures that the biodiversity of many species of plants and animals is retained. Because these areas are devoid of human development, they serve as irreplaceable environments for the survival of certain species of flora and fauna, some of which are endangered.

Wilderness also ensures a source of clean water. Water is easily contaminated when it washes over paved surfaces or through fields or yards that have been treated with pesticides or fertilizers. The undisturbed soil and vegetation within many wilderness areas provide a natural filtration system that removes contaminants from water.

Wilderness areas also serve as a type of natural laboratory for science and educational studies. The wilderness is a pristine classroom that can be used as a place for environmental and conservation studies and other forms of scientific research.

Wilderness areas also provide a site for recreation and solitude. While mechanized vehicles, including bicycles, are prohibited, there are many opportunities for backpackers, hunters, fishermen, and horseback riders to enjoy the beauty and solitude of the wilderness. Wilderness areas are seeing an increase in use from those wishing to find respite from the fast-paced demands of society.

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