President John F. Kennedy endorsed the wilderness bill in 1961, and the Senate approved the Zahniser drafted bill that year, but the House radically altered their version of the bill and it died in committee that year. Howard Zahniser worked with the House Interior and Insular Affairs Committee chair Wayne Aspinall (D-CO), one of the chief opponents of the bill, and other House representatives and eventually agreed to enough concessions to get The Wilderness Act of 1964 through both the House and Senate.
|President Lyndon Johnson hands the pen he used to sign|
the Wilderness Act of 1964 to Alice Zahniser. Also pictured
are Interior Secretary Stewart Udall, Senator Frank Church
Mardy Muire, and Rep. Wayne Aspinall, among others.
The Wilderness Act established the United States' National Wilderness Preservation System which permanently protects these federal public lands for future generations for both people and wildlife. There have been more than 100 separate Wilderness bills signed into law since 1964, designating approximately 107,500,000 acres of land as Wilderness. This is about 4.82% of the country, however, a little more than 50% of this Wilderness is in Alaska. The smallest Wilderness Area is Pelican Island, FL, at about 5 acres, and the largest is Wrangell-St Elias in Alaska at 9,078,675 acres.