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Our History

Mo Udall, courtesy the University of Arizona Archives, MS325, Box737

Founded in 1979, the Arizona Wilderness Coalition (AWC) has built public support and political momentum for protecting Arizona’s beloved wild places for more than 30 years. AWC was founded as an all-volunteer organization with the goal of creating an inventory and assessing all the roadless, wilderness-quality lands in Arizona on USFS and BLM lands. Through the dedication and countless hours of work to compile these “citizen wilderness inventories” guided by Joni Bosh and Rob Smith, AWC advocated for the creation of two statewide wilderness bills: the first came in 1984, the Arizona Wilderness Act, which added more than 1 million acres of national forest lands to the National Wilderness Preservation System and the lower segment of the Verde River to the National Wild and Scenic River System. The second effort culminated in the 1990 Arizona Desert Wilderness Act, which created more than 2 million acres of wilderness on existing BLM lands across the state.

Because of the knowledge and commitment of AWC volunteers, and the passion of Congressman Mo Udall to see the bills through Congress with bipartisan support, Arizona is the only state outside of Alaska to enjoy statewide USFS and BLM wilderness bills. These bills were supported by numerous Republicans in Arizona’s delegation including Senator Barry Goldwater and, at that time, House Rep. John McCain.

In the collaborative spirit of Mo Udall and the legacy he created, AWC’s approach in fulfilling its mission is to find pragmatic solutions and create balanced partnerships that can bring together the diverse interests that enjoy—and benefit from—wilderness in Arizona. Read about Mo's influence in creating Arizona's wilderness legacy here.

Organizational Structure

Today, AWC is a coalition of almost 2,000 individuals, businesses, and partner organizations working to protect Arizona’s wild places. AWC takes the lead across the majority of the state, including the western and southwestern deserts, all of central Arizona, and the eastern mountain regions. In the Grand Canyon region and southeast portions of the state we partner with, take the lead from, and provide support for partner groups who are local experts and have on-the-ground staff.

AWC now has offices in Tucson, Phoenix, and Prescott. AWC’s Tucson office houses AWC’s Executive Director and Administrative Assistant. Our Deputy Director and our Conservation Outreach Associate are based in Phoenix and Flagstaff, respectively. AWC’s Central Arizona Director works in Prescott, where we partner with Prescott College and benefit from numerous interns, volunteers, work study students and recent graduates to expand our on-the-ground capacity in the region. Visit our staff page!

Organizational Strategy

Our work ultimately succeeds by empowering people to speak up for, and act on behalf of, conservation efforts. By building grassroots support and political momentum for wilderness conservation, AWC operates its programs on a campaign format, strategically assessing opportunities for conservation investment, then running goal-driven, time-defined campaigns to achieve results. Our organization manages three core areas of operations focused on:

  • protecting wild lands and waters through special designations
  • cultivating land stewardship through volunteerism, and
  • advocating for sound natural resource policy.

The Arizona Wilderness Coalition has determined that nearly 5.5 million acres of Arizona’s public lands contain wilderness character and deserve special protections. In the coming three years, AWC’s special designations program is focused in three geographic areas: the Sky Islands, the Sonoran Desert, and the Upper Verde Watershed. In these places, our goal is provide strong, lasting statutory protection. Additionally, our unique volunteer initiative—the Wilderness Stewardship Program (“Wild Stew”)—focuses on connecting people with nature through on-the-ground projects designed to maintain and restore Arizona’s wilderness. Our goal is to safeguard these lands while building a strong advocacy network of people who care; we are focused on protecting and restoring our state’s wilderness heritage for this and future generations.


-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement