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The Eastern Wilderness Areas Act (Pub.L. 93–622, 88 Stat. 2096, enacted January 3, 1975) was signed into law by President Gerald Ford on January 3, 1975. Built upon the 1964 Wilderness Act, which was written by Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society and signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Act designated 16 new wilderness areas in the Eastern United States, including 207,000 acres (84,000 ha) of wilderness on national lands in 13 states.[1] Although it was originally untitled, the bill signed by Ford has come to be known as the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act.[2]

While the previous Act created the legal definition of wilderness in the United States, the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act applied only to land east of the 100th meridian west.[3]



In 1964, both the Forest Service and Congress agreed that eastern areas would have qualified as wilderness. However, six years later, the Forest Service opposed congressional designation of new wilderness areas in West Virginia with land use histories of logging. In 1971, it adopted a "purity" interpretation for wilderness designation so that no eastern or western lands with a history of human disturbance could qualify as wilderness.[4]

The Forest Service drafted its own bill as an alternative "to establish a system of wild areas within the land of the national forest system" that would have allowed cutting trees to "improve" wildlife habitat and recreation.[5] The organization described the bill as necessary because eastern areas "do not meet the strict criteria of the Wilderness Act." Members of Congress who championed the Wilderness Act resolved to overturn the misconception that wilderness areas included only those "pristine" in nature. Senator Henry Jackson warned of this "serious and fundamental misinterpretation of the Wilderness Act" and pledged himself to correct the falsity of the so-called purity theory. Senator Frank Church, who had been leader of the Senate debate on the Wilderness Act, observed that "the effect of such an interpretation would be to automatically disqualify almost everything, for few if any lands on this continent—or any other—have escaped man’s imprint to some degree."

To counteract the Forest Service bill, advocates for wilderness, including The Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, and Friends of the Earth, and their congressional allies, responded with the proposed Eastern Wilderness Areas Act. Promoted largely by Ernie Dickerman, a Wilderness Society staff member, and George Aiken, a senator from Vermont, the Senate endorsed the bill in May 1974.[6]

The final legislation adopted some elements of the Forest Service-inspired bill, but it did not alter the definition and intent of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The previous debate regarding the meaning of "wilderness" versus "pristine" land led to the understanding that cultural use of lands should not keep the area from being restored to a "secondary wilderness," with functioning natural processes similar to when the land was in a primary state. Therefore, the Eastern Wilderness Areas Act explicitly protects lands that both suffered previous abuse and have the ability to recover and therefore be designated for wilderness protection.[7]

Wilderness areas createdEdit

Designated Wilderness Areas[8]
Num. Wilderness from National Forest Approximate Area (acres) State(s)
1 Sipsey Wilderness Bankhead National Forest 12,000 Alabama
2 Caney Creek Wilderness Ouachita National Forest 14,433 Arkansas
3 Upper Buffalo Wilderness Ozark National Forest 10,590 Arkansas
4 Bradwell Bay Wilderness Apalachicola National Forest 22,000 Florida
5 Beaver Creek Wilderness Daniel Boone National Forest 5,500 Kentucky
6 Presidential Range-Dry River Wilderness White Mountain National Forest 20,380 New Hampshire
7 Joyce Kilmer-Slickrock Wilderness Nantahala and Cherokee National Forests 15,000 North Carolina and Tennessee
8 Ellicott Rock Wilderness Sumter, Nantahala, and Chattahoochee National Forests 3,600 South Carolina, North Carolina, and Georgia
9 Gee Creek Wilderness Cherokee National Forest 2,570 Tennessee
10 Bristol Cliffs Wilderness Green Mountain National Forest 6,500 Vermont
11 Lye Brook Wilderness Green Mountain National Forest 14,300 Vermont
12 James River Face Wilderness Jefferson National Forest 8,800 Virginia
13 Dolly Sods Wilderness Monongahela National Forest 10,250 West Virginia
14 Otter Creek Wilderness Monongahela National Forest 20,000 West Virginia
15 Rainbow Lake Wilderness Chequamegon National Forest 6,600 Wisconsin


  1. ^ Rennicke, p. 55
  2. ^ Johnson, p. 252
  3. ^ "The Wilderness Act of 1964". Western North Carolina's Mountain Treasures. Retrieved on June 16, 2010.
  4. ^ Scott, Douglas W. (2005). "Our Nationwide National Wilderness Preservation System". People, Places, and Parks: Proceedings of the 2005 George Wright Society Conference on Parks, Protected Areas, and Cultural Sites. Hancock, Michigan: The George Wright Society.
  5. ^ Scott, p. 68
  6. ^ Northup, Jim. (April 2001.) "George D. Aiken: Father of Eastern Wilderness". Forest Watch. Retrieved on June 16, 2010.
  7. ^ Scott, p. 69
  8. ^ Eastern Wilderness Act. Pub.L. 93–622, 88 Stat. 2096, enacted January 3, 1975. § 3.(a)


  • Johnson, Christopher. This Grand & Magnificent Place: The Wilderness Heritage of the White Mountains. Durham, N.H.: University of New Hampshire Press, 2006.
  • Rennicke, Jeff. (February 1992.) "Micro-Wild". Backpacker. Vol. 20, No. 112.
  • Scott, Doug. The Enduring Wilderness. Golden, Colo.: Fulcrum Pub., 2004.

External linksEdit