What is a Wilderness Study Area?
In 1976, Congress directed the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) through Section 603(a) of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) to inventory and respond to Congress within 15 years:
"... those roadless areas of five thousand acres or more and roadless islands of the public lands, identified during the inventory required by section 201(a) of this Act as having wilderness characteristics described in the Wilderness Act of September 3, 1964 and shall from time to time report to the President his recommendation as the suitability or nonsuitability of each such area or island for preservation as wilderness..."
The wilderness characteristics that were used in the inventory as described in the 1964 Wilderness Act were:
- generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable
- has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition,
- has outstanding opportunities for solitude, or a primitive or unconfined type of recreation in at least part of the area.
- May also contain ecological, geological, other features of scientific, scenic, or historical value.
California BLM began the inventory in 1978 and made its suitability recommendations to Congress in 1991. The inventory identified over 210 Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) and made 209 suitability/nonsuitability recommendations. Since the suitability recommendations, Congress has designated wilderness for some WSAs, has designated new WSAs, and has released others from further WSA management restrictions. As a result, California BLM now manages 80 WSAs totaling over 1,360,000 acres.
How are Wilderness Study Areas managed?
The BLM is required by Congress to manage each WSA consistent with the direction provided in Section 603(c) of FLPMA (commonly called the "Interim Management Policy for Lands Under Wilderness Review (or IMP)). In general, BLM is required to maintain the wilderness characteristics of each WSA until Congress decides whether it should either be designated as wilderness or should be released for other purposes.
The guidance for managing each WSA is provided in the IMP Manual (8550, July 5, 1995). The general management standard is that the suitability of the WSAs for preservation as wilderness must not be impaired. Valid existing rights are recognized, and grandfathered uses such as grazing and mineral uses are allowed but restricted to the same manner and degree as on the date FLPMA was approved. While many activities are allowed within WSAs, some have specific restrictions. For example, recreation vehicle use off existing travel routes and issuing new mineral leases are not allowed. Most primitive recreation activities are allowed and are encouraged. These include hiking and camping, backpacking, fishing and hunting, rock hounding, boating (with or without motors), horseback riding, and the use of pack animals.
For further information about the WSAs nearest you, feel free to contact our local Field Offices or review the information provided in this website.