history of the conservation efforts in California

An outline of the history of the conservation efforts in California

When Yellowstone became the first National Park in 1864 it was owned and operated by the Federal Government. The National Park Service was created in August, 1916 and signed by President Woodrow Wilson. President Teddy Roosevelt created Forest Reserves, later to become The National Forest in 1905. Congress created The Wilderness Act of 1964 that defined wilderness as: “An area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain”.  The Wilderness Act describes wilderness as “an area of undeveloped federal land retaining its primeval character and influence”.

In 1968 Congress passed the National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. California has 16 major rivers protected by The National Wild and Scenic Rivers Act mostly up north or in the Sierras. Wild and scenic status means much more than just prohibiting dams. The agency that manages the public land is required to manage in a way to protect and enhance the outstanding values for which the river was designated. Public land along the designated river segments are classified depending on the level of existing access and shoreline development and use. The classifications are:

WILD-- These river segments represent vestiges of primitive America. Their watersheds or shorelines are essentially primitive, and the segment is generally inaccessible except by trail.

SCENIC— these river segments have shorelines that are still largely primitive and undeveloped, but may be accessible by roads.

RECREATIONAL— these river segments are readily accessible by road or railroad and may have some development along their shorelines.

After all this we have only protected about 1% of the land for wilderness and wild streams. In California about twenty years ago people began to study the remaining road less areas and wild streams to take an inventory of possible future wilderness and wild and scenic river candidates. Over 300 conservation and recreation groups worked with agencies, off-highway, mountain biking groups, utilities and timber companies. After reaching a consensus of what were the best remaining wilderness areas and wild and scenic rivers it came down to this list.


  • 22 new Wild & Scenic rivers totaling almost 440 miles
  • Two new Wild & Scenic Study Rivers totaling
  • 78 new Wilderness Areas and Wilderness Additions totaling 2,505,001 acres
  • Two new Potential Wilderness Areas totaling 16,566 acres
  • Two new Wilderness Study Areas totaling 83,000 acres
  • Three new Salmon Habitat Restoration Areas totaling 74,667 acres
  • One new 17,000-acre Sacramento River National Conservation Area
  • One new 28,991-acre Ancient Bristlecone Pine forest


In 2003 Senator Barbara Boxer introduced the California Wild Heritage Act of 2003. The bill did not get through congress. Since then several members of Congress have taken the parts of the bill that was in their district and have introduced their own bills, some have passed and some have been introduced and didn’t get out of committee. I will keep you informed of the progress of these acts in the future.

Bill Reeves