Today’s Wonder of the Day was inspired by Adam. Adam Wonders, “Why were national parks created?” Thanks for WONDERing with us, Adam!
Do you ever wish you could travel back in time to experience what it was like to be an explorer? As the fledgling United States began to expand westward, millions of acres of frontier were waiting to be discovered.
From the smallest towns to the largest metropolitan areas, the once-wild areas of the U.S. have been settled. Sure, forests and parks remain where you can get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life. But most of those areas contain roads and other signs of civilization.
The continental United States stretches across over 3 million square miles from coast to coast. Yet over that vast expanse there's little left that's truly wild. Over four million miles of public roads, nearly three million miles of natural gas and oil pipelines, and over 150,000 miles of high-voltage electricity transmission lines dissect the landscape.
Is there any wilderness left in America? Fortunately, the answer to that question is yes! Most experts define a wilderness as an area of land undisturbed by human development. Untouched by roads, buildings, and other human creations, wilderness areas remain raw and wild, supporting plants and animals in natural ecosystems that are important to preserve.
Although wilderness areas exist in every ecosystem on every continent, these areas remain under attack from continued human development. Proponents of wilderness areas routinely seek to have wilderness areas set aside by governments to preserve these areas for future generations. Legal protections often limit the types of human activities that can occur within the wilderness area.
In the United States, the Wilderness Act was passed in 1964, creating the National Wilderness Preservation System. Pursuant to the Wilderness Act, the U.S. now recognizes over 750 different wilderness areas totaling over 109 million acres of land.
The largest U.S. wilderness area is the Wrangell-Saint Elias Wilderness in Alaska. This huge wilderness area consists of over 9 million acres of land. In fact, Alaska contains approximately half of the wilderness areas in the U.S.
While 109 million acres of wilderness might sound like a lot of wilderness, it's really not. If you take out Alaska, only about 2.7% of the continental U.S. is protected wilderness. That's an area about the size of the state of Minnesota.