This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act in the United States, which is credited with protecting millions of acres of federal land across the country and administered by four agencies.
They are the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Bureau of Land Management.
All have portions that are designated as wilderness, an actual category with the protected lands.
In Southern Arizona there are many examples of public lands that are part of the system, with Saguaro National Park being one.
“Nearly 80 percent of Saguaro National Parks, which is around 91,000 acres, 58,000 acres in the east district into the Rincon Mountains and about 13,000 in the Tucson Mountains are federally designated wilderness (areas),” said Bob Newtson, an executive director of Friends of Saguaro National Park. “That is important because of the additional protection that is afforded to the resources in (those) areas.”
The east district, for example, contains six different biotic zones in the Saguaro Wilderness, which protects great diversity of plant and animal life, he added.
The saguaro cactus, an iconic desert species is native to no other region of the world. It’s stately giant whose image and fame has spread over thousands of miles.
“It is the west, it’s what everybody in the country and even over in Europe – Germany and France, when they think of the American west, this landscape is what they are thinking of so that’s what they want to come and see,” said Andy Fisher, a Saguaro National Park spokeswoman.
The park is also home to elements of rocky mountain, animal and plant communities from subtropical areas in Central America and Mexico, said Son Swann, a biologist at the park.
“We have the Sonoran desert to our west and the Chihuahuan desert to the east and so we have this really great mixing of biota that kind of come together in this park in a unique way,” she said.
Among other places that embrace wilderness in Southern Arizona are Ironwood Forest and Sabino Canyon.
Lahsha Brown, an executive director at Friends of Ironwood Forest explained what wilderness means.
“It is the opposite of having roads and developments. It is a place that is considered undeveloped and you have the opportunity for solitude and for primitive recreation, uniquely non-motorized,” she said.
There are now about 90 designated wilderness areas in Arizona that all together encompass about four and a half million acres, said Bob Newston, an executive director at Friends of Saguaro National Park.
A regional celebration of 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act will take place at Sabino Canyon in November. To find out more check their website for updates.