Wilderness Study Areas
Section 603 of the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) establishes the BLM's role as a full partner in the National Wilderness Preservation System established by the Wilderness Act of 1964. FLPMA directed the BLM to, first, inventory areas on public lands with wilderness characteristics, using the criteria in the Wilderness Act:
♦ sufficient size, and
♦ naturalness, and
♦ outstanding opportunities for solitude or primitive & unconfined recreation.
Areas of BLM-managed public land with these characteristics are known as wilderness study areas (WSAs). More than 800 WSAs were identified nationwide. BLM-Idaho published its inventory in 1980.
Using this inventory, the BLM then studied which land use plans would need amendment if Congress designated WSAs as Wilderness.
The final step in the process was to make a recommendation to the President on the suitability or non-suitability of each for preservation as Wilderness. The Idaho Wilderness Study Report was completed in 1991, along with similar studies of BLM-managed lands in other states.
648,515 acres of BLM-managed lands in Idaho are currently in WSA status. WSAs range in size from 40 acres (Worm Creek, near Soda Springs) to 66,200 acres (Hell's Half-Acre, near Idaho Falls). More than 517,000 acres of lands inventoried as WSAs are now Wilderness, while another 225,700 acres formerly managed as WSAs have been released from special status.
Until Congress acts to either designate a WSA as Wilderness or release a WSA from special status, the BLM manages each WSA "in a manner so as not to impair the suitability of such areas for preservation as wilderness" (Section 603(c), FLPMA).
The BLM manages WSAs to meet this "non-impairment standard" using its policy for Management of Wilderness Study Areas.
All WSAs are remote and generally without visitor services or amenities, so it’s a good idea to contact the local BLM field office for specific information about a WSA before your visit.