In addition to the Wilderness Act (being signed into law above), a multitude of laws and administrative policies affect wilderness management today. Below are a few of the most important acts of Congress, listed in chronological order, relating to management of the National Wilderness Preservation System. While some acts directly affect the wilderness system or specific areas within the system, others prescribe measures that influence wilderness management. The intent and direction of all applicable laws must be met in wilderness. To download copies of these and other wilderness-related laws, visit the law library.
In addition to establishing human health and welfare standards, the Clean Air Act (as amended) established Class I areas. These Class I areas are those wildernesses and national parks larger than 5000 or 6000 acres, respectively, that were in existence in 1977. The Class I designation affords these areas special protection from human-caused degradation of air quality related values by air pollution. Air quality related values vary by wilderness, but typically include visibility, flora, fauna, water, and soils.
Wilderness and air quality managers work closely with state air regulators, EPA, and stakeholders to protect Class I wildernesses from adverse impacts from new pollution sources under the Prevention of Significant Deterioration program of the Clean Air Act. Managers can also certify existing impairment in Class I areas from existing sources, thereby obligating the states to create a plan to clean up the pollution sources. The Clean Air Act also requires states to develop plans to reduce haze to natural background levels by the year 2064. Extensive monitoring of air quality related values in wilderness is carried out across the country to help fulfill land manager's responsibility under the Clean Air Act.
During the debates leading up to passage of this law the Forest Service took the position that few if any areas in the east qualified as wilderness because they were not 'pristine' or 'untouched'. Congress did not accept this argument and directed the Forest Service to let go of this doctrine and follow through with inventory and recommendation of lands for Congress to consider designating as wilderness. Congress directed the National Park Service to do the same.
The Eastern Wilderness Areas Act added 16 National Forest areas to the National Wilderness Preservation System and directed that 17 areas should be studied in eastern National Forests, and within 5 years, the Secretary of Agriculture should recommend additions to the wilderness system. Condemnation authority was provided. Congress debated the issue of adding areas that had been severely modified. They chose to do so and declined to establish a separate "Eastern Wilderness" category. Wilderness areas east of the Mississippi are often referred to as "wilderness in the East."
ANILCA provided for the designation and conservation of certain public lands in Alaska. The bill added about 56 million acres to the National Wilderness Preservation System in 35 areas administered by the National Park Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Forest Service. Several wild and scenic rivers were also added to the national system. It was the intent of Congress to preserve unrivaled scenic and geological values associated with natural landscapes and to preserve vast unaltered arctic tundra, boreal forest, and coastal rainforest ecosystems.
Another major purpose was to protect wildlife habitat for species dependent on large undeveloped areas. In 1990 the Tongass Timber Reform Act amended ANILCA to protect certain lands in the Tongass National Forest by modifying certain long-term timber contracts.
The purpose of the Americans with Disabilities Act is to provide a clear and comprehensive national mandate for the elimination of discrimination against people with disabilities in areas of employment, transportation, and communication. It also protects people with disabilities from the discriminatory aspects of architecture, over protective rules and policies, failure to make modifications to existing facilities and practices, and relegation to lesser services, programs, activities, benefits, jobs, or other opportunities. This Act amends the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, which requires federal agencies to make facilities and programs accessible. ADA extends the mandate to all state and local governments and any facility or program receiving government funding. The Rehabilitation Act, ADA, and the Wilderness Act appear to differ affectedly if read literally without applying some common sense.
The latter proposes to protect natural and undeveloped landscape values for future generations. ADA seeks to eliminate all discrimination to programs and facilities by tailoring facilities and programs to be universally accessible. The key point is that equal access will be provided and facilities will be 'universally accessible' by not discriminating against people with disabilities. Wheelchairs (as defined by the law) are allowed in wilderness, and the Forest Service does not install barriers to their use when constructing or reconstructing trails or bridges in wilderness. Trail standards are differentially applicable between wilderness and non-wilderness areas. This approach allows equal access to all but does not alter the character of the wilderness.