The Wilderness Act, Prohibited Uses, and Exceptions: How Much Manipulation of Wilderness Is Too Much

Document Type


Journal/Book Title/Conference

Natural Resources Journal





Publication Date

Fall 9-1-2011

First Page


Last Page



The Wilderness Act of 1964 prohibits a number of uses in federally designated wilderness areas. In accordance with the Act, there shall be no permanent or temporary roads, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment, landing of aircraft, or placement of structures or installations. The Act includes an important clause that allows exceptions. The Act states that temporary roads, motor vehicles, structures and installations, etc., are prohibited “except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for the administration of the area for the purpose of this Act.” As will be discussed, this obscure clause has been widely misinterpreted by federal agencies so that it is far too vague, allowing manipulations that are too extensive and destructive of wilderness resources. This article will present a more precise and correct interpretation of the exception clause. Properly interpreted, the Wilderness Act allows needed manipulations of wilderness, such as the construction of trails and bridges, yet rules out actions that are too destructive.

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