Kate McCredie wants you to know, and care about, the 1964 Wilderness Act, a law most people have probably never heard of.
“The reason we can travel to these untouched places that we all love, to National Parks and wilderness areas, and throw ourselves into nature is because of the Wilderness Act,” McCredie enthuses, handing out brochures and pointing out these wilderness areas on a giant map to anyone who will stop.
On October 9th, a variety of local wilderness and environmental groups and individuals, including McCredie, who is Co-Director of ECOS, the environmental and sustainability club and resource center on the SOU campus, joined together in front of the SU to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Wilderness Act. Signed by President Lyndon Johnson, the Act set aside vast areas of land, especially in the West, as protected wilderness zones. There could be no commercial development within these zones, as well as limited number of tourists every year. The Act also established a working definition of “wilderness,” so that the government could better designate these areas.
The event on the SOU campus was a way both for local wilderness groups to celebrate the outdoors they love so much, as well as communicate that love to SOU students. The Pacific Crest Trail Association was present, offering classes in trail maintenance on that vast hiking route, which stretches from Mexico to Canada. The local Coyote Trails School of Nature also advertised, offering a class on October 25th on how to identify and follow animal tracks. Park rangers from local wilderness areas offered looks at local areas to visit, as well as tips on how to best maintain outdoor areas today. Many tables had local animal furs or skeletons; all collected from surrounding Southern Oregon areas. From the tiny and delicate skeleton of a bat to the sleek coat of a fox, the event showcased the dramatic variety of life even in the local area.
Today there are over 109 million acres of protected land under the Wilderness Act, an amazing 5 percent of the entire United States territory. The fight to protect this land is still going strong 50 years later, evidenced by the strong showing at the celebration event today, with both young and old, student and retired, committing their time to the continued preservation of pristine lands.
In the words of the Wilderness Act itself, “a wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, 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.”
Visitors we may be, but McCredie and the others represented at the 50th Anniversary event believe that humans have a responsibility to protect these areas. McCredie says, “we are here to celebrate the beauty of where we live, and how awesome it is to be able to go to these areas that are unlike anything we know.” As McCredie and others teach interested students about their work, there is a sense of hope that those green spots on the map will not fade away, and that we as people can admire the beauty of this place we are merely visiting.