The term wilderness is an administrative designation created under the Wilderness Act of 1964 applied to specific parcels of public lands. Wilderness designation enables preservation and protection of “Federal lands retaining primeval character and influence” and as such limits consumptive, motorized, and mechanized uses.

Other federal lands, not officially designated as wilderness, may be managed under similar objectives. These include lands recommended for wilderness designation by the US Forest Service (USFS) as Recommended Wilderness Areas and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) as Wilderness Study Areas. Other non-wilderness designations which have similar management objectives include USFS Roadless Areas and BLM wilderness character areas, natural areas, and Areas of Critical Environmental Concern.

Map of Data

Download mxd

The ESRI mxd file of the services used to create the above map.

Resource Information

To be considered for wilderness designation, lands must meet specific criteria. Wilderness qualifications include [1] [2]:

  • Size. At least 5,000 acres of contiguous roadless lands.*
  • Naturalness. Minimal human impacts exist within the area (natural processes dominate).
  • Opportunities for solitude. Primitive recreation and opportunities to avoid other people.
  • Supplemental values. After the first three criteria are met, areas with ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic or historical values can be considered

*Minimum size can be smaller if it connects existing wilderness areas or wilderness study areas.

Lands that appear to qualify as wilderness are designated as a recommended wilderness area (by the USFS) or a wilderness study area (by the BLM) in planning documents. The NEPA process is followed to assess potential impacts of land use decisions, including wilderness designation. Plans are adopted after consultation with local governments, residents, Native American tribes, and other interested parties. Proposed wilderness areas and wilderness study areas are then managed as default wilderness until Congress either designates the wilderness or returns the land to the agency for other management purposes.

Federal wilderness designation is a legislative action by Congress that typically follows a comprehensive National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) planning process. In general terms wilderness designation begins with the adoption of agency planning documents. For the MAG region this includes resource management plans from one BLM field office and three National Forest resource management plans for the Uinta-Wasatch-Cache and Ashley National Forest.  As part of each plan, management agencies inventory lands to identify areas which have wilderness characteristics. These areas are then recommended as wilderness, but are not officially set aside as wilderness until designated by Congress.

Pertinent planning documents

Summit County

Utah County

Wasatch County

Four Congressionally designated wilderness areas exist in two counties of the  MAG region [3]:

  • Summit County
    • High Uintas Wilderness Area (Ashley and Wasatch-Cache National Forest)
  • Utah County
    • Lone Peak Wilderness Area (Uinta National Forest)
    • Mount Nebo Wilderness Area (Uinta National Forest)
    • Mount Timpanogos Wilderness Area (Uinta National Forest)

Lands officially designated as wilderness become part of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS), which currently contains 765 wilderness areas encompassing 109,129,657 acres [5]. The BLM Wilderness is also included in the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS).

Another related landuse designation which occurs in the region is the Roadless designation. While not officially designated as Wilderness, Roadless areas are managed for the protection of wilderness-like characteristics.

Acres Roadless Area by county [9].

Best Management Practices

Both the BLM and USFS have agency policies and directives regarding the management of wilderness lands [6] [7].

Economic Considerations

The economic effect of wilderness designation is the subject of ongoing debate. Research and published studies support both sides of the argument. On the one hand suggesting that wilderness designation costs local communities jobs and income by removing lands from economic production [8]. On the other, wilderness improves local economies through increased tourism, real estate value increases, and other amenities-based values [9].

What is certain about wilderness designation is that it restricts the types of uses allowed on designated lands. Most notably is the prohibition of mechanical device which clearly limits future extractive uses such as oil and gas development. Whether or not these impacts are offset by increased tourism, real estate values, and other benefits is most likely determined by local conditions and circumstances.

Economic considerations of wilderness designation should include discussion on:

  • Mineral and energy development potential
  • Logging and forest products
  • Grazing restrictions – grazing is allowed in wilderness areas but must meet wilderness guidelines.
  • Private and State land inholdings
  • Land transfers
  • Motorized recreational uses

Wilderness designation on public lands has positive effects on local economies.

  • Non-motorized recreation
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Drinking water source protection
  • Watershed protection

Impact Considerations

Wilderness designation is intended to preserve lands in a natural state and, therefore, the designation has profound impacts on the future uses of lands within the administrative boundary. Future resources development and motorized access is permanently and severely limited. This will affect local economies dependent on future development of those resources.

Economic impact considerations of wilderness designation should include discussion concerning:

  • Mineral and energy development potential
  • Logging and forest products
  • Grazing restrictions (grazing is allowed in wilderness areas but must meet wilderness guidelines)
  • Private and state land inholdings
  • Land transfers
  • Motorized recreational uses

Wilderness designation on public lands also has positive effects on local economies, possibly including the economic benefits related to other natural resources included in a county’s resource management plan such as:

  • Nonmotorized recreation
  • Tourism
  • Wildlife habitat
  • Drinking water source protection
  • Watershed protection

Data Download
  GIS Data Map Service Web Map Document  Tabular Data  Website
Data NameData ExplanationPublication DateSpatial AccuracyContact
Areas of Critical Environmental Concern which require special management attention to protect  areas of significant valuesJanuary 20101:24,000Bureau of Land Management in Utah
National Landscape Conservation System contains wilderness areas, wilderness study areas and national conservation areas3/21/20141:24,000Bureau of Land Management in Utah
BLM RMP Layers

Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas
Data layers from the 2008 RMP. Includes WSA and other lands administratively endorsed as wilderness in a report sent to the President and Congress. Also includes areas managed as WSA under congressional direction01/09/20141:24,000Utah BLM data published by the Utah Automated Geographic Reference Center (AGRC)
Land Ownership
Surface Land Ownership; use Admin field to identify administrative agencyUpdated Weekly1:24,000State of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration (SITLA).
GIS Group
National Wild and Scenic River System
River segments from USFS, BLM, FWS, and NPS20091:24,000National Atlas of the United States
USFS Roadless Areas (2001)
2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (36 CFR 294, Subpart B)7/21/20001:100,000USDA Forest Service
Wilderness Proposals
BLM Wilderness Study Areas and Citizen's Red Rock Wilderness Proposal (2008)Variable1:24,000AGRC/SITLA


  1. Wilderness Act of 1964, as enacted September 3, 1964, and amended October 21, 1978 (16 U.S.C. 1131-1136).
  2. US Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. n.d.  Lands With Wilderness Characteristics in the Planning Process. Accessed: 1/13/16.
  3. SITLA. 2016. Land Ownership. GIS data obtained July 28, 2016.
  4. USDA Forest Service. 2011. Roadless Areas. GIS Data Service. Accessed September 23, 2016.
  5. Wilderness.net. n.d. Fast Facts About America’s Wildernesses. Accessed: 1/13/16.
  6. US Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 2007. Forest Service Manual 2300 – Wilderness Management.
  7. US Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 2012. BLM Manual 6340 – Management of Designated Wilderness (Public).
  8. Leaming, G. F. 1990. The Adverse Economic Impacts of Wilderness Land Withdrawals on Utah. Western Economic Analysis Center, Marana, AZ. January.
  9. Yonk, R., B.C. Steed, and R. Simmons. 2010. The Local Impact of Wilderness: An Overtime Analysis of Wilderness Designation. Working Draft.