This coming school year, I will be a ninth-grader at Louisiana Connections Academy. While I will be learning about this nation’s history, I am also exploring my own. Not only does my family have deep roots in this part of the world, but also I know that I am a descendent of multiple Native American tribes.
Appreciating the diverse lands and “wildness” of Louisiana is part of my heritage. My ancestors may have hunted and fished around the state; my father and I make a business of photographing it. Both of my parents have instilled in me a great love of our state.
I hope our congressmen and women will honor the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act by sharing our love for this nation’s great wild areas.
The Wilderness Act was signed into law on Sept. 3, 1964, by President Lyndon Johnson. Over the years, it has guaranteed that future generations will be able to use and enjoy our nation’s natural treasures. These include the John Muir Wilderness in California and the Breton, Kisatchie and Lacassine areas in our own state. The act was actually championed by Democratic Sen. Hubert Humphrey and Republican Congressman John Saylor. These two individuals were on opposite sides of the political spectrum, yet they united to protect America.
To me, the Wilderness Act is important because it ensures that our nation continues to protect and conserve its “wild” lands. Today, the National Wilderness Preservation System is more than 109 million acres strong. This is only about 5 percent of America’s landmass, at a time when Americans lose 6,000 acres of open space every day.
I am asking our senators and Congress people to do more! Currently, there are nearly two-dozen bills to safeguard American land pending in Congress. Hopefully, more lands will be included in the Wilderness Act soon.
It has always been a battle to protect the natural history of our country, so this fight is nothing new. Protecting the wild has largely been the result of everyday people, like my family and yours. Joined together, we can protect the places we love — perhaps the woodlands you hike in, or the marshes you paddle through.
Exploring the land is at the core of the American experience. It gives Louisianans the opportunity to camp, view nature in its various forms and connect with our planet.
A 2008 Zogby International poll of likely voters found that 87 percent believe that protecting wilderness is important. This support is consistent with other polls on the issue and cuts across political, regional, religious and ethnic lines.
This 50th year of the Wilderness Act is an anniversary worth celebrating, for wilderness is much of what defines us as Americans.
Wade “Chase” Henderson