To commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, Plattsburgh State, along with Clinton Community College and the Rockefeller Institute of Government, will be hosting a week-long celebration from Sept. 22 to 27.
New York State was selected to recognize the anniversary because of its own Forever Wild legislation, which was passed Jan. 1, 1985.
PSUC Assistant Professor of Environmental Science Jacob Straub said plans for the commemoration began after PSUC President John Ettling was contacted by the Rockefeller Center and Adirondack Wild to see if the school would be interested in being involved.
Eventually, the news trickled down to the environmental science department, which jumped at the chance to host the event.
“It was right up our alley,” Straub said. “We knew it would be a great opportunity to educate and inspire our students and the community about the wilderness.”
THE LAW’S HISTORY
The Wilderness Act was signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson Sept. 3, 1964, after eight years of revisions by author and environmental activist Howard Zahniser, who wrote the bill in his Adirondack cabin, located near Johnsburg, New York.
“I believe we have a profound fundamental need for areas of the earth where we stand without our mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment,” Zahniser said after the bill was signed into law.
The new law created a legal definition for wilderness and the National Wilderness Preservation System, immediately placing 54 areas into the system.
It also placed 9.1 million acres of land in 13 states under federal protection.
The system prohibited humans from building houses or roads or driving through the protected land.
In 2014, more than 109 million acres in 44 states, including Montana, Wyoming, California, and Alaska, are protected by the National Wilderness Preservation System.
Straub said although more acreage is now protected, it is important to keep in mind that the United States population has grown considerably and will continue to increase.
“Even though we live on a big piece of land, we are spreading out,” Straub said.
“We are exploring the wilderness and bringing unknown plants and animals into the wild that were not there before. So, the philosophical question is, ‘Should we take away animals and plants that weren’t supposed to be there?’”
The week will kick off Monday with Dave Gibson and Dan Plumley from Adirondack Wild speaking on “The History of Wilderness Management in the Adirondacks” at noon in the Stafford Auditorium at CCC.
Continuing Wednesday, Chris Maron of Champlain Area Trails will host the forum “Maintaining Connectivity by Saving Land and Making Trails,” also in the Stafford Auditorium.
Two documentaries, “Forever Wild,” and “The Resilient Ones: A Generation Takes On Climate Change,” will also be screened at 30 City, Plattsburgh’s downtown community center, Sept. 23 and 26, beginning at 8 p.m.
Tom Butler of the Northeast Wilderness Trust will give the event’s keynote address Thursday at 4 p.m. in the Krinovitz Recital Hall. Butler will speak on “Wilderness for the 21st Century: Spiritual Resource and Arena of Evolution.”
The event will be wrapped up by Elizabeth Lee, an outdoor guide and wildlife advocate, who will lead a lecture and hike at Twin Valleys Outdoor Education and Recreation Center in Lewis.
The week’s events are open to the public, and Straub said they provide a great opportunity to step into wilderness.
“The lectures will be eye-opening for students who never have stepped foot into a forest or hiked a trail, while the hike is great for students who love to be outdoors,” Straub said.
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