Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1971

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Author: Richard M. Nixon  | Date: April 28, 1971

152
Statement on Transmitting to the Congress Proposals To Establish New National Wilderness Areas.
April 28, 1971

THE FIRST man created on earth, according to the ancient Scriptures, was placed by his Creator in a huge natural garden and charged "to dress it and to keep it." In the ages since, men have worked energetically at dressing and improvingGod’s good earth—but their efforts at keeping and preserving it have been scant. Now, all around the world, people are awakening to the urgent need of protecting the fragile life-balance and of setting aside for the future such wildness and natural beauty as still remains to us.

The preservation of wilderness is not, like the control of environmental pollution in its many dangerous forms, an imperative for human survival. All the same, wilderness is a precious and irreplaceable resource of human society. Its beauty and solitude are wellsprings of refreshment for the spirit of man; its grandeur and balance teach us our place in the harmony of the universe; and without it we would all be poorer—however well provided with the material essentials of life.

Keeping, as well as dressing, the land is an especially important responsibility for us as Americans, for our country was in time past especially endowed with wilderness. As the great American naturalist John Muir saw it, "The whole continent was a garden, and from the beginning it seemed to be favored above all the other wild parks and gardens of the globe."

In 1872, with the establishment of Yellowstone National Park, this Nation embarked on a systematic effort to preserve our greatest natural treasures. Other parks and forest preserves followed, and by 1901 Muir could write with a measure of satisfaction, "When, like a merchant taking a list of his goods, we take stock of our wildness, we are glad to see how much of even the most destructible kind is still unspoiled." But civilization far outpaced preservation in the first two-thirds of this century, and by the early 1960’s Americans surveying the land were alarmed to find how little of even the most indestructible kind of wildness was still unspoiled. Even within the National Park System, which by then comprised hundreds of separate units, well-intentioned efforts to make the forests and mountains a little more hospitable to millions of city-bred visitors had tended to mar the natural face of the land.

In response to this accelerating trend, the Wilderness Act of 1964 was enacted. Defining wilderness 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... in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate ...."the act set aside some 9 million acres of federally owned land as the nucleus of a National Wilderness Preservation System, where primitive areas would be kept forever in their natural state. It also ordered an exhaustive 10-year review of all wild lands within the national forests, National Park System, and national wildlife refuges and game ranges, with a view to bringing every appropriate area into the Wilderness System.

The inventory of wildness to which John Muir had referred 63 years before thus became part of the law of the land. Since 1964 the statutory process of enlargement has increased the extent of the National Wilderness Preservation System to more than 10. I million acres at present, with wilderness areas in 21 States from New Hampshire and Florida to and California. Thirteen more proposals totaling over a million acres are now pending before the Congress.

I am today transmitting to the Congress 14 new wilderness proposals. If approved, they would expand our Wilderness System by some 1.8 million acres, exceeding the total of all other additions since its creation.They involve parts of nine States, including four—Utah, Louisiana, Ohio, and Virginia—which now have no protected wilderness areas at all.

My new proposals would add to the National Wilderness Preservation System land in the following locations: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, and Farallon National Wildlife Refuge, California; North Cascades National Park and adjacent recreation areas, Washington; Isle Royale National Park, Michigan; Shenandoah National Park, Virginia; Chamisso National Wildlife Refuge, Simeon of National Wildlife Refuge, and Izembek National Wildlife Range and Aleutian Islands National Wildlife Refuge, Alaska; West Sister Island National Wildlife Refuge, Ohio; Breton National Wildlife Refuge, Louisiana; Florida Keys National Wildlife Refuge, Florida; and Cedar Breaks National Monument, Arches National Monument, and Capitol Reef National Monument, Utah. I am also recommending an amendment to the wilderness proposal for the Okefenokee National Wildlife Refuge in Georgia, first submitted to the 90th Congress, so that it would take in 347,000 acres rather than the 319,000 acres originally proposed.

I urge the Congress to act quickly in favor of these new proposals as well as the ones already pending before it. We owe it both to ourselves and to future generations to safeguard as much of primitive America as we can—and time is not on our side.

The protection of wilderness is unusual among public projects in that it costs the taxpayer practically nothing. No government purchase of land is involved, only additional discipline in the use of land already owned. Administrative and management expense is tiny, for man enters these preserves only as nature’s guest. He leaves his mechanized transportation behind, and while in the wilderness he builds nothing and extracts nothing.

Of course there are often attractive commercial opportunities in potential wilderness areas: mining, lumbering, recreational development, and others. Wilderness protection, putting these opportunities out of reach, may impose a sort of hidden wilderness tax in marginally higher costs of the goods and services of certain affected industries. That is why the Wilderness Act provides for full public hearings and a careful evaluative process. It recognizes that a sensible land use balance must be struck—that America continues to value development and growth as well as unspoiled nature.

But whatever the extent of the costs and sacrifices incurred when we do set aside appropriate wilderness areas, if they are weighed in the balance against the value of our dwindling virgin lands-priceless, finite, and fragile—it is clear that wilderness is a spectacular bargain for the American people.

Creation of a comprehensive, continent-wide Wilderness Preservation System is a major goal within the drive for environmental protection and quality of life to which we are dedicated. By establishing the new wilderness areas I am proposing today, we could take a long step toward that goal. Of course, this step and the many others that will logically follow—for nearly 53 million acres of potential Federal wilderness remain for review and study—will call for teamwork. The Interior and Agriculture Department officials who manage the Federal lands, the Congress which makes the Nation’s laws, and the public which stands to benefitfar more than it sacrifices—all will have to work together in the best interests of the American people and the American land. But we can do it.

Those habits of mind we will need—the self-restraint that marks a mature society, the foresight of consequences that alone can insure survival in this interdependent world, the becoming humility that accords nature’s domain an equal right to coexist with the domain of man—can serve us well, and not in wilderness preservation alone. They can indeed they must-inform all our endeavors during the "earth era" now dawning.

NOTE: On the same day, the White House released a fact sheet and the transcript of a news briefing on the wilderness preservation proposals by Rogers C. B. Morton, Secretary, George B. Hartzog, Jr., Director, National Park Service, and F. Victor Schmidt, Acting Assistant Director of Operations, Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife, Department of the Interior.

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Chicago: Richard M. Nixon, "152 Statement on Transmitting to the Congress Proposals to Establish New National Wilderness Areas.," Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1971 in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1216-1217 588–590. Original Sources, accessed April 19, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD74P6S9ACYNWRL.

MLA: Nixon, Richard M. "152 Statement on Transmitting to the Congress Proposals to Establish New National Wilderness Areas." Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1971, in Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1216-1217, pp. 588–590. Original Sources. 19 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD74P6S9ACYNWRL.

Harvard: Nixon, RM, '152 Statement on Transmitting to the Congress Proposals to Establish New National Wilderness Areas.' in Public Papers of Richard Nixon, 1971. cited in , Federal Register Division. National Archives and Records Service, Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States, Richard Nixon, 1971 (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1956-), Pp.1216-1217, pp.588–590. Original Sources, retrieved 19 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DD74P6S9ACYNWRL.