Arizona Wilderness Coalition logo  





September 1, 2009

Wilderness Milestones Celebrated in Arizona and Nationwide

2009 marks anniversaries of two major wilderness laws


Contact: Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, Executive Director, 520-326-4300

Kate Mackay, Communications Director, 602-252-5530

President Lyndon Johnson signs the Wilderness Act in the Rose Garden, Sept. 3, 1964.
Courtesy National Park Service, Harpers Ferry Center. Photo by Abbie Rowe.


PHOENIX—Thursday, September 3rd marks the 45th anniversary of a conservation landmark, the Wilderness Act. Signed into law on September 3, 1964 by President Lyndon Johnson, this historic legislation has been used by citizens from coast to coast to guarantee that future generations will be able to use and enjoy our nation’s most wild, ecologically significant public lands. Among the first national treasures that gained immediate protection in 1964 were the Mazatzal and Superstition Wilderness areas in Arizona, the Bob Marshall Wilderness in Montana, Boundary Waters Canoe Area in Minnesota, and the John Muir Wilderness in California.

Forty-five years later, the Wilderness Act remains one of the most important and effective conservation measures ever enacted to allow citizens to preserve wild, undeveloped public lands in perpetuity. Although remembered and eulogized for his work on health care and labor issues, the late Senator Edward Kennedy (D-MA) was one of only four remaining members of Congress who voted for the Wilderness Act in 1964.

All of the areas protected by the Wilderness Act were carved from National Forest lands, but since then, wilderness has been created on Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuge lands. Today, the National Wilderness Preservation System is 109 million acres strong.

This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the Arizona Wilderness Act, ushered through Congress in August of 1984 in the devoted and bipartisan hands of Rep. Morris K. Udall and Senator Barry Goldwater. Because of this act, and the ensuing Arizona Desert Wilderness Act passed in 1990, Arizona is the only state outside Alaska to have set aside wilderness statewide on both its Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) lands.

Mo Udall in Alaska. Photo: Special Collections, University
of Arizona, Papers of Morris K. Udall.

“Arizona offers an amazing array of wilderness lands that many will be enjoying this Labor Day weekend—Escudilla, Fossil Springs, and Munds Mountain are just a few,” says Kevin Gaither-Banchoff, executive director of the Arizona Wilderness Coalition. “Mo Udall’s legacy reminds us every day that there is more work to be done, especially with the rapid growth of Arizona and the correlating recreational pressures we put on our public lands. We strive every day to fulfill his incredible wilderness vision through our organizing and volunteer work on the ground and our outreach in Washington, D.C.”

Using the authority provided by the 1964 Wilderness Act, citizens in Arizona are working to protect approximately 85,000 acres of new wilderness on the Coronado National Forest in southern Arizona. The Tumacacori Highlands have been listed as a “biodiversity hotspot” by Conservation International for their incredible array of plant and animal species that are found nowhere else in the nation. Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Dist. 7) is working on legislation that would permanently protect the Tumacacori Highlands as wilderness.

Protected wilderness in America provides clean air, clean water, recreational opportunities like hunting and fishing, critical intact habitat for wildlife, and spiritual wellbeing for those who visit or simply appreciate knowing such wild places still exist. Lands in western Maricopa County, in the Verde River watershed, and on the rugged Mogollon Rim meet the criteria for wilderness-quality designations, and grassroots citizen efforts are underway to build support for these protections.


President George H.W. Bush signs the Arizona Desert
Wilderness Act in 1990. Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and
former Rep. Jim Kolbe (R-Dist. 8) pictured at far left.
Photo:Special Collections, University of Arizona,
Papers of Morris K. Udall.


Recognizing the importance of the Wilderness Act to our nation, the U.S. Senate recently passed a bipartisan resolution, sponsored by Senator John McCain (R-AZ),  commemorating the 45th anniversary of this ground-breaking law. The resolution boasts that the Senate “recognizes and commends the extraordinary work of the individuals and organizations involved in building the National Wilderness Preservation System; and is grateful for the wilderness, a tremendous asset the United States continues to preserve as a gift to future generations of the United States.” 

“Thanks to the Wilderness Act, some of America’s last few unspoiled lands have been protected as they are, for future generations to enjoy,” said Doug Scott, policy director of the Campaign for America’s Wilderness, and one of the nation’s leading wilderness historians. “Americans of all ages, backgrounds and political affiliations are working together for protection of the wild places they love, wilderness protection truly is grassroots driven.” 

“In these times of heated town hall meetings and political arguing, one thing that brings people of all walks of life, all regions, all sides of the political aisle together is the goal of protecting more of our special wild places – our common ground – for those who will come after us,” says Gaither-Banchoff.



-Arizona Wilderness Coalition mission statement