The word “wilderness” has a generic meaning – a wild place – but in the United States it also has a specific legislative meaning. The Wilderness Act of 1964 established the process by which Congress can designate wilderness areas, and it states in general terms what kinds of activities are allowed and not allowed in those areas. Essentially, industrial activity like oil and gas development, logging and road building are prohibited, along with the use of motorized and mechanized vehicles. There are common-sense exceptions for things like search and rescue and fire-fighting.
Wilderness designation is only one tool among many for protecting federal lands, but it’s the most powerful and the most enduring. It takes an act of Congress to designate wilderness, and once designated, a wilderness area can be altered only by another act of Congress. So you can see why the Wilderness Workshop (founded in 1967, three years after the passage of the Wilderness Act) has used this tool to accomplish many of its goals over the years, and indeed why the word “wilderness” is part of its name.
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