Editorials

September 4, 2014

EDITORIAL: Y'all thank LBJ for keeping California's wilderness safe

Did you have a nice Labor Day weekend? Did you head off into the wilderness, or to Yosemite National Park? Maybe you made it up to Tahoe National Forest or down to Kings Canyon for some back-country hiking.

Did you have a nice Labor Day weekend? Did you head off into the wilderness, or to Yosemite National Park? Maybe you made it up to Tahoe National Forest or down to Kings Canyon for some back-country hiking.

We hope it was a great trip. But now that you're back, consider this: If not for the Wilderness Act, it might all have been covered with McMansions and casinos or strip malls.

A shuddering thought, to be sure. To give proper thanks on the eve of the act's golden anniversary, next time you find yourself in a wide-open space, yell out: "Thank you, President Lyndon B. Johnson!"

It might well be the first time you've ever uttered those words, especially if you're of a certain age and recall having a draft number.

Johnson is long gone, of course, but he still deserves our heartfelt thanks for preserving so much of the country's precious wilderness from the predations of rapacious development.

Fifty years ago this week, Johnson signed the Wilderness Act, which created the National Wilderness Preservation System, which set aside 9.1 million acres for our collective enjoyment and use.

Perhaps he was already worried about how he would be remembered, when he wrote: "If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."

In truth, LBJ was a piker. Since he first signed the act on Sept. 3, 1964, Congress has added more than 100 million acres to the wilderness program.

There are currently 758 official wild places in the U.S. — accounting for about 5% of the total land area. And 149 of them are in California — from the Ansel Adams Wilderness, run by the National Forest Service, to Yosemite National Park.

Our state is fortunate to have vast amounts of wilderness set aside, about 15 million acres, and we are fortunate to have handy access to some of the most awe-inspiring scenery in the world.

Only Alaska has more wilderness acres. By 1964, it was too late for much for the heavily urbanized northeast, Midwest and Southern states to be protected from encroaching development.

Lucky us! Having wilderness isn't just a bonus for our recreating needs; it keeps the Golden State golden. Maintaining open space ensures our native flora and fauna continue to exist and helps keep our air and water clean. It also provides places for scientists to conduct important research.

This isn't to say we wouldn't mind seeing a few more acres added to the list, especially in Yosemite National Park where two parcels are waiting. Representatives Jim Costa, D-Fresno, and Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, have been arguing over the best way to incorporate the parcels. We prefer Costa's plan, but we're happy McClintock is at least talking about the possibility.

So rejoice that, 50 years ago, forward thinkers were concerned enough with our quality of life to take this important step. To that we say, "Thank you, President Lyndon B. Johnson!"

 

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