One Hundred And Ten Million Acres Couldn't Be Wrong


Posted Mondays, Jeremy Rosenberg's (@LosJeremy) Laws That Shaped L.A. spotlights regulations that have played a significant role in the development of contemporary Los Angeles. These laws - as nominated and explained each week by a locally-based expert - may be civil or criminal, and they may have been put into practice by city, county, state, federal or even international authority

This Week's Law That Shaped L.A."¨
Law: Wilderness Act
Years: 1964
Jurisdiction: Federal
Nominated by: Daniel Rossman


If only every law was this poetic.

Conceived and drafted by a visionary conservationist who ran an environmental non-profit, the 1964 Wilderness Act reads in parts just as beautifully as some of the extraordinary vistas and water bodies and hiking trails that the Act so ably conserves.

"A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape," the Act says in part, "is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."

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Here, let's try that again, with some added breaks:

Okay, let's see you top that, Mike the Poet.

This unusually moving bit of legislative language wouldn't, however, wind up nominated as a Law That Shaped L.A. without having produced substantial results. And The Wilderness Act has indeed done just that -- and in an era when that wasn't necessarily a given.

"We are technologically a pretty amazing species," Daniel Rossman says. "Our ability to manipulate nature is profound."

Rossman is the Los Angeles-based regional associate for The Wilderness Society, a leading national environmental conservation organization -- and the group whose visionary leader was referred to at the top of this column.

"Equally profound," Rossman says, "is the idea that for some places -- those most special places -- we should not exercise that ability. We should leave them in their natural condition."

Enter, then, the Wilderness Act, Rossman and his colleagues' nomination as a Law That Shaped L.A.

Since '64, various implementations of the Act have granted extraordinary land-use protections to approximately 110 million acres of land located throughout the United States.

Here in the Southland, areas afforded this gold-standard of conservation designation are centered in and around the San Gabriel Mountains. Specific spots where hiking may be permissible but new power lines or cell phone towers or ATVs or mining operations are not include some 36,000 acres of the San Gabriel Wilderness, 12,000 acres of the Cucamonga Wilderness and 42,000 acres of Sheep Mountain Wilderness. In 2009, approximately 27,000 more acres were added to the list, the Pleasant View Ridge Wilderness.

The above areas allow for the likes of the conservation of the San Gabriel's tallest peak, Mt. San Antonio; restoration of bighorn sheep population; and iconic views from the Pacific Crest Trail and Devil's Punchbowl Natural Area. The above also deny, say, overgrazing, overfishing, extensive logging, and the building of condos.

Photo by Flickr user simonov used under Creative Commons license
Photo by Flickr user simonov used under Creative Commons license

What exactly does being declared a "Wilderness" area mean? "It's a law that sets aside land for future generations," Rossman says. He elaborates too on the meaning of "untrammeled" -- that key and memorable word from the Act's text. "Untrammeled... is not a word that use i our common day vernacular," Rossman says. "So it is often mistaken for, 'trampled,' but really it means un-contained or unbound by man."

The National Park Service is one of four federal agencies that manage Wilderness-designated lands. (The others are the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Forest Service.) On its website, the Park Service poses and then answers a philosophical question.

"What is the significance of wilderness," the text on this page, wonders. "Through the Wilderness Act, Congress recognized the intrinsic value of wild lands," the answer reads. "Some of the tangible and intangible values mentioned in the Wilderness Act include 'solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation,' as well as 'ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.'"

The Wilderness Society's Rossman waxes philosophic as well when talking about the difference between lower case 'w' wilderness and upper-case 'W' Wilderness. Rossman is pleased with all the Los Angeles area -- and beyond -- places preserved by the Act. But he is also far from satisfied.

Rossman, his colleagues and various partner organizations have identified another 32,000+ acres of the San Gabriels that they'd like to see placed on the Wilderness list. Their campaign to do so -- visible here -- includes mention of something Rossman stressed during a recent interview as well, that L.A. County receives one-third of its drinking water from the range as well as more than two-thirds of the region's 'open space.'

"The work is not done," Rossman says. "In the first cut of the apple you certainly don't identify all of the places that are deserving of this."

Rossman adds: "As the pressures on our natural resources increase, or as our population grows, it is even more important that we continue to identify these areas where the last remaining wild places deserve that protection of 'Wilderness' to ensure that they are there for future generations."


Top image: 1939 photo of the snow-capped San Antonio peak in the San Gabriels. Photo by Burt O. Burton and courtesy Los Angeles Public Library

Have a suggestion for a Law That Shaped LA or someone to interview? Contact Jeremy Rosenberg via: arrivalstory AT gmail DOT com.

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