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What is Wilderness
and What are Wilderness Study Areas

Cebolla Wilderness

BLM New Mexico Wilderness Areas

Wilderness Frequently Asked Questions

Wild places, it has been said, are what shaped the American identity - self-reliance, fortitude, hard work, a fierce independence, and innate love of the land.  As Americans interacted with the once dominant wild places of North America - traveling through to find a place offering the promise of a new life, sustaining themselves from what the land had to offer, or residing to grow crops, mine, raise livestock, or harvest building material – Americans of all backgrounds were being shaped by the land they inhabited, even as they themselves shaped the land through their activity.

As more people arrived and as technology developed, the extent to which Americans shaped and changed the land was becoming the dominant, and the wild rare.  By the early part of the 20th century, civilization stretched across the continent and large scale human changes could be found almost everywhere.  Would Americans completely eliminate wild places?

In response to this concern, a uniquely American idea was born: to deliberately preserve some of the last remaining wild places as wilderness.  In 1964, the Wilderness Act was passed “in order to assure that an increasing population, accompanied by expanding settlement and growing mechanization, does not occupy and modify all areas within the United States and its possessions.”  With this law, present and future generations could continue to experience and benefit from the wild nature that was so formative and fundamental to America's identity.  Wilderness areas are only designated by Congress for protection.

BLM New Mexico Wilderness Areas

Chain of Craters WSA
Wilderness Study Areas

BLM New Mexico Wilderness Study Areas

“In the Public Lands will be found wilderness regions of charm and beauty,” wrote Robert Yard in 1926, about what would later become the lands managed by the BLM.
Setting out to find those lands would not systematically begin for another 50 years—12 years after the passage of the Wilderness Act.  When the Wilderness Act passed in 1964, the Nation had not yet decided whether BLM lands should remain in Federal ownership.  In 1940, Aldo Leopold suggested that desert tracts be recognized as wilderness areas.  In 1962, Howard Zahniser, the principle author of the Wilderness Act, testified in Congress that “perhaps the Bureau of Land Management may later find that some of the public domain under its jurisdiction is best suited for wilderness preservation.”  However, BLM lands were not mentioned in the Wilderness Act.  Would BLM lands be retained? 

In 1976, the BLM was directed by Congress to conduct a wilderness characteristics inventory on all of its lands.  These became the BLM’s Wilderness Study Areas (WSA).  Many of these areas identified have the charm and beauty that Robert Yard anticipated.  Congress has designated many of the WSAs as wilderness, so present and future generations can experience, and benefit from, the wild nature so formative and fundamental to America's identity.

BLM New Mexico Wilderness Study Areas

National Conservation Lands


National Conservation Lands in New Mexico

The NLCS: A Geography of Hope (video)

National Conservation Areas

National Scenic and Historic Trails

National Monuments

Wild and Scenic Rivers

Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas (WSA)

Map of National Conservation Lands in New Mexico

Implementing the National 
15-Year Strategy in New Mexico

National Conservation Lands Online Resources (maps, brochures, etc.)

National Conservation Lands National Page