Wasatch Wilderness; History and Future

What is “Wilderness”

The word “Wilderness” has different meanings to different people, and has changed drastically over time. From its origins in ancient Greece, meaning the land of barbarians, to a place where one can go for spiritual rejuvenation spoken of by John Muir. However, legally it has been defined in The Wilderness Act of 1964 That “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.”

The Wilderness Act of 1964

Under this Act, Wilderness is a designation that we, the citizens of the United States, can place upon our public lands. It is the highest level of protection that our public lands can receive and can only be created or removed by an act of Congress. The act stipulates that the lands “shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreation, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation and historic use.”  To administer these lands the National Wilderness Preservation System was created. The land in the system has grown from 9.1 million acres upon enactment to over 107 million acres (and growing). These areas are managed, in harmony, by four different Federal Land Management agencies: The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), United States Forest Service (USFS), National Parks Service (NPS), and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). These agencies may recommend Wilderness areas in their various plans but ultimately, the decision to create these areas lies in the hands of the United States Congress.

Not all public lands in the US are eligible for protection under the Wilderness Act. In order for lands to qualify they must be pristine, “untrammeled” landscapes, that have been Inventoried Roadless. If an area, for whatever reason, loses it’s Wilderness character, or man leaves his mark on the landscape, it becomes ineligible for future protection. Once these special places are compromised, they could be lost forever! This is why it is so important to protect these special places….before they are gone.

“Wilderness is a resource which can shrink but not grow… the creation of new wilderness in the full sense of the word is impossible.”~Aldo Leopold

Wasatch Wilderness

In 1978 and again in 1984, at the urging of the Utah Delegation, Salt Lake City, Save Our Canyons and the environmental community, Congress permanently protected approximately 37,000 acres of Utah’s most scenic alpine terrain. Since that time, population surrounding the Central Wasatch has been rapidly increasing; population for Salt Lake County alone has surpassed 1 million people. This natural area is now endangered by the urban populations encompassing it.

Salt Lake City gets over 60% of its water supply from the 200 square-mile Salt Lake City Watershed. The pressures this area sees in visitation alone are unmatched in any other forest in the country. Save Our Canyons and our partners would like to see that this extraordinarily unique environment is kept pristine for the sake of wildlife, ecosystem preservation, and the health of the citizens that depend on the one resource that is essential for life in this valley: water.

Wilderness designation is the best way to protect the integrity of the Central Wasatch. This area receives more annual visits than Yellowstone National Park though less than half its size. The proximity of this landscape to such a large population results in unintended consequences such as: pressures from development, transportation within the canyons, and overuse by recreationists seeking a wilderness experience.

Existing Wilderness areas in acres:

Click here to view map

Lone Peak National Wilderness Area – 30,544 – The Lone Peak Wilderness is Utah’s first designated Wilderness dating back to 1978. From the skyrocketing peak of Lone Peak scraping the sky at 11,253, one can cross granite lined basins, ripe with wildlife and seasonal streams falling steeply down to the cities of Sandy and Draper in the valley below.

Mt Olympus National Wilderness Area – 15,279 – Established by Congress in 1984 along with the Twin Peaks National Wilderness as part of the Utah Wilderness Act, Mt Olympus Wilderness is home to unparalleled backcountry skiing, splitboarding, snowshoeing and hiking. High peaks and shaded valley’s are sought out by the many visitors to this highly accessible wilderness area

Twin Peaks National Wilderness Area – 11,447 – Twin Peaks, a rough and exposed summit perched 11,319 feet above admirers below is just one majestic peak in an area rich with high alpine lakes, exposed ridge lines and varied rock formations. Steep side canyons formed by ancient glaciers are characteristic of this beautiful area.

Wasatch Wilderness and Watershed Protection Act HR 2808 (2013) (Not designated)

Mt. Aire Special Management Area – 1,267

Mt. Olympus Special Management Area – 1,962

Twin Peak Special Management Area – 6,359

Lone Peak Special Management Area – 1,424

Wayne Owens Grandeur Peak/ Mt. Aire Wilderness Area – 6,202

Mt. Olympus Wilderness Area addition – 2,601

Lone Peak Wilderness Area addition – 4,602

Central Wasatch Conservation and Recreation Area Act HR 5718 (Introduced 2016)

80,000 acres of land proposed to be conserved under the CWCRA

Lone Peak Wilderness Area – 2,563

Grandeur Peak – Mount Aire Wilderness Area – 6,158

White Pine Special Management Area – 1,800 (Allows Wasatch Powderbird helicopter operations)

Lone Peak Wilderness Area

The Lone Peak Wilderness is Utah’s first designated wilderness dating back to 1978. From the skyrocketing peak of Lone Peak scraping the sky at 11,253 feet, one can cross granite lined basins, ripe with wildlife and seasonal streams falling steeply down to the cities in the valley below. This addition is important to limit urban sprawl on the foothills which has the potential to impact wildlife populations, human recreation and water sources depended upon by all.

Grandeur Peak- Mt. Aire Wilderness Area

Vital winter and summer migratory habitat in the Central Wasatch, this area remains important due to its crucial role in the Parley’s Canyon watershed, which supplies Salt Lake City’s third largest water yield.

Ultimately, the future of wilderness in the Wasatch lies in the hands of the United States Congress, and now is the time to show your support for permanent protection of this wild landscape. Click here to sign our petition in support of the CWCRA. 

Watershed Management

Save Our Canyons and the Salt Lake City Department of Public Utilities have developed proposed Wilderness additions to preserve sensitive ecosystems, protect water quality, and the overall quality of life for the residents in the valley below. As shown in the Proposed Wilderness Additions and Land Management Map, the Department of Public Utilities has been actively acquiring land within the Central Wasatch to protect water resources for their customers. It is our belief that the combination of land acquisition and Wilderness Designation is the only permanent way to protect the watershed.


Ecological continuity is very important for sustaining species, yet current boundaries are fragmented and allow for minimal species migration. Moose, black bear and golden eagles are frequently seen throughout these mountains.

The Central Wasatch provides critical habitat for: the three-toed woodpecker, northern goshawk, Bonneville cutthroat trout, and the Utah shooting-star – a plant exclusive to the Wasatch. Without permanent protection the populations of these sensitive species are at risk due to habitat destruction and degradation. The high alpine regions of the Wasatch are also prime habitat for the Canadian lynx which have recently been reintroduced to the Intermountain West.


Wilderness is the highest protection that can be placed upon these treasured lands and the only way to ensure for their protection for the benefit of future generations. Save Our Canyons Proposed Wilderness Additions Map is based on the US Forest Service’s Inventoried Roadless Areas data, in conjunction with Wilderness extensions proposed by the Department of Public Utilities.

Ultimately, the future of the Wasatch lies in the hands of the United States Congress. It is our hope that you too will see that the time is now to protect this unique area before it is lost and no longer able to support the populations that are dependant upon it.

Wilderness Quick Facts

  • Utah Population within 15 miles of the Wasatch: 85% (nearly 2,600,000)

  • Residents currently served by Salt Lake City Watershed: ~600,000

  • Current Salt Lake County Wilderness Acres: 37,045

  • Save Our Canyons Wilderness Proposed Acres: 8,000

  • Salt Lake County 2016 Population: 1,015,649

  • 2014 Wasatch-Cache National Forest Visitation: 6,500,000

  • 2014 Yellowstone National Park Visits: 6,300,000

Allowed Activities in Wilderness

  • Hunting (except in national park wilderness) and fishing

  • Hiking, backpacking, and camping

  • Float trips, canoeing, kayaking

  • Horseback riding and pack trips

  • Outfitting and guiding

  • Wheelchairs (including certain motorized wheelchairs)

  • Scientific research and nature study

  • Control of fire, and insect and disease outbreaks

  • Livestock grazing and related facilities, where previously established

  • Mining on pre-existing mining claims

  • Continued use of tracts of private or state land that may be within the boundaries of some wilderness areas, with reasonable access

Prohibited Activities in Wilderness

  • Road building

  • Oil and gas drilling

  • Logging

  • Mechanical vehicles such as dirt bikes and off-road vehicles (certain motorized wheelchairs are allowed)

  • New mining claims

  • New reservoirs, power lines, pipelines

One response to “Wasatch Wilderness; History and Future

  1. Pingback: Protect! Wasatch National Monument TODAY for Tomorrow | Save Our Canyons·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s