Wilderness Study Area

What is a Wilderness Study Area?

Wilderness Study Area (WSA) is the term given to land under wilderness review identified by one of the following methods: wilderness review required by the Federal Land Policy and Management Act of 1976 (FLPMA), Congressional legislation, or other land use planning process in Section 202 of FLPMA.

In 1976, FLPMA directed the BLM to inventory and study its roadless areas for wilderness characteristics. To be designated as a WSA, an area had to have the following characteristics:

  • Size - roadless area of at least 5,000 acres of public land or of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition;
  • Naturalness - generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable;
  • Outstanding Opportunities for Solitude or Primitive and Unconfined Types of Recreation - an outstanding opportunity to experience either solitude or nonmotorized and nondeveloped types of recreation activities.

Nevada BLM began the inventory in 1978 and WSA recommendations were completed in 1980. The final recommendation for wilderness designation was forwarded to Congress on October 18, 1991 and completed the FLPMA mandated wilderness review process. WSAs are managed to preserve their wilderness values until Congress either designates them as wilderness as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, or releases them for other uses.

Wilderness Study Areas in the Southern Nevada District

Since 1980, Congress has reviewed some of these areas and has designated some as wilderness and released others for non-wilderness uses. Congress had not yet acted on all of the recommendations. Currently, the BLM Southern Nevada District manages 4 WSAs totaling 38,049 acres. This includes one Instant Study Area - a formally designated natural and primitive area identified by the Nevada BLM that underwent an accelerated wilderness review - and for all intents and purposes is managed as a WSA. All WSAs areas are managed to preserve their suitability for designation as wilderness until Congress makes a final decision.

Afternoon clouds rolling across the Mojave Desert, Million Hills Wilderness Study Area - Photo by Sendi Kalcic, BLM

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