One of the prevailing themes in the modern environmental movement is the narrative of disappearing wild places. A sense of urgency is created to set aside more protected land in the United States with very little attention given to the areas that have already received protected status. The blue line of the graph indicates the number of acres of land formally designated as Wilderness since the creation of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Wilderness designation substantially limits land uses to non-mechanized means. Virtually all extractive uses are forbidden in perpetuity. With the exception of the Alaska Wilderness designation that accounts for the huge jump in amount of Wilderness in 1980, the amount of land protected as Wilderness has consistently grown over time. Interestingly, there is no discernible pattern of whether Republicans or Democrats control either the Executive or Legislative branches in predicting additions to the Wilderness Areas.
The red line indicates the number of acres of Wilderness plus the Bureau of Land Management land contained in Wilderness Study Areas since 1993. Although WSAs were created prior to that time, good data does not exist as to the amount of acres listed within WSAs per year). WSAs are administratively managed to maintain their Wilderness characteristics through limiting extractive use and mechanized access.
The green line indicates the amount of land contained in Wilderness, WSAs, and Roadless Areas managed under the U.S. Forest Service's Roadless Rule of 2001. Again, the Roadless Areas are managed to limit extractive access and mechanized travel.
All told, more than 180 million acres are managed under Wilderness and de facto wilderness.
The Amount of Inventories Roadless comes from forest service documents www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/stelprdb5057894.pdf
The WSAs total acreage comes from the BLM www.blm.gov/pgdata/etc/medialib/blm/wo/Law_Enforcement/nlcs/online_electronic.Par.20654.File.dat/WSA_Detailed%20Table_Updated_December2010.pdf
The Wilderness Designations were pulled from the Congressional Record at www.gpoaccess.gov/crecord/index.html