Designated Wilderness Areas

Designated Wilderness Areas


Bluffs At Burden Falls Wilderness Area
The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the National Wilderness Preservation System and a process for 

Federal land managing agencies to recommend Designated wilderness areas to Congress.

People value wilderness for its wildlife; scenery; clean air and water; and opportunities for solitude, personal growth experiences, and a sense of connection with nature and values beyond themselves.Wilderness, as defined by the Wilderness Act, is untrammeled (free from man's control), undeveloped, and natural, and offers outstanding opportunities for solitude and primitive recreation. The National Wildlife Refuge System manages Designated Wilderness Areas to secure an enduring resource of wilderness and to accomplish refuge purposes in a way that preserves wilderness character.

As former Senator Frank Church said about the Wilderness Act, "The great purpose is to set aside a reasonable part of the vanishing wilderness, to make certain that generations of Americans yet unborn will know what it is to experience life on undeveloped, unoccupied land in the same form and character as the Creator fashioned it …It is a great spiritual experience. I never knew a man who took a bedroll onto an Idaho mountainside and slept there under a star-studded summer sky who felt self-important that next morning. Unless we preserve some opportunity for future generations to have the same experience, we shall have dishonored our trust."

Refuge wilderness visitors may hunt, fish, and observe and photograph wildlife, if these activities are compatible. Many other types of compatible recreational uses, such as cross-country skiing, canoeing, kayaking, and hiking may also be enjoyed in Designated Wilderness Areas.

Interesting Statistics

Congress has designated 75 wilderness areas on 63 units of the National Wildlife Refuge System in 26 states. About 90 per cent — or 18.6 million acres — of Refuge System wilderness is in Alaska. The remaining 2.5 million wilderness acres are in the lower 48 states. This represents approximately 22% of the National Wilderness Preservation System (over 106 million acres), that the Refuge System administers in coordination with the Bureau of Land Management, the National Park Service, and the  National Forest Service.

Great Swamp NWR (NJ) was the first refuge to receive wilderness designation — 3,660 acres in the 1968.

The smallest wilderness area in the National Wildlife Refuge System is two-acre Wisconsin Islands Wilderness, Green Bay NWR (WI).

The largest wilderness area in the Refuge System is 8 million acres of the Arctic NWR. Nearly 75 per cent of Alaska Maritime NWR is wilderness. These 11 island wilderness units comprise 2.5 million of the refuge's 3.5 million acres.

The most recent additions to wilderness areas within the Refuge System were included in the 1994 California Desert Bill which expanded wilderness areas on two refuges: Havasu NWR (CA/AZ) by 3,195 acres and Imperial NWR (CA/AZ) by 5,836 acres.

For further information about wilderness areas and issues visit the Wilderness Information Network. 


Shawnee National Forest Designated Wilderness Areas