Wilderness Study Areas

Wilderness Study Areas (WSAs) contain undeveloped lands that retain their primeval character without human habitation, and are managed to preserve their natural character until congress acts to either designate these lands as wilderness or remove the protective management. The Bureau of Land Management manages more than 545 WSAs containing nearly 12.7 million acres located in the Western States and Alaska.



Why were Wilderness Study Areas Designated?

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..."


It is important to note the BLM no longer designates new WSA’s. This was clarified in the Settlement of the lawsuit, Utah v. Norton .


What are the characteristics of a Wilderness Study Area?

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.

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 more information contact your local field office .


What Wilderness Study Areas are in Utah?
As of 2013, Utah BLM administers 86 Wilderness Study Areas encompassing over 3.2 million acres.  

Wilderness Suitabilty Report 
On October 18, 1991, Utah submitted a report to Congress recommending which Wilderness Study Areas should be designated as Wilderness and which should be released for other purposes. 

Congress has received BLM's wilderness recommendation from the Secretary of the Interior and the President.  In the legislative phase of the wilderness review, there is no deadline or timetable for Congress to act; only Congress can designate areas as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System

Utah Statewide Wilderness Study Report - 1991

Utah Statewide Wilderness Study Report Map - 1991

National Conservation Lands Watermark

Useful Links

Canaan Mountain Wilderness Study Area