Wilderness Study Areas

What is a Wilderness Study Area?


With passage of the 1974 Federal Land Management Policy Act, all publicly owned lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management were inventoried for their wilderness character and potential for designation as federal Wilderness, a congressional designation to ensure a continuing legacy of wild, untrammeled land for future generations. A Wilderness Study Area, or WSA, is an area of public land found to contain wilderness characteristics that deserve special management consideration until acted upon by Congress - either designated as Wilderness or released from this conservative state.  The WSAs across the American West contain the rest of the best - a literal treasure trove of little-visited, often out-of-the-way public wildlands.


Wilderness Study Areas are part of the greater National Conservation Lands System. They are our newest system of federal conservation lands. The National Conservation Lands are 31 million acres of our most ecologically rich and culturally significant lands—open to all—managed by the Bureau of Land Management. These places, mostly large and pristine landscapes, are found throughout the West, Alaska and even extend to the East Coast. America’s newest collection of protected public lands and waterways stands alongside our national parks and wildlife refuges as guardians of America’s heritage and drivers of the nation’s $646 billion outdoor recreation economy.


The National Conservation Lands include National Monuments and National Conservation Areas, Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails. These nationally significant lands embody freedom, discovery and unique outdoor experiences. The recreational opportunities afforded by the National Conservation Lands are unmatched—and they support the tourism and recreation economies of our Eastern Sierra Communities, as well as rural communities around the west.


The National Conservation Lands ensure our clean air and water, while protecting critical habitat for our wildlife. Most National Conservation Lands areas are open to hunting and fishing, and offer some of America’s best places for sportsmen to carry on outdoor traditions.


This collection of protected public lands also protects and preserves America’s sacred sites and cultural history. From ancient Puebloan cultures of 1,000 years ago to Spanish, Mexican, Native American and American settler histories from recent centuries, the National Conservation Lands represent a complete tour of the history of the American West.




The lands, rivers and trails within the National Conservation Lands have been designated for protection, but they are also incredibly vulnerable. They face abuse from reckless oil and gas drilling and irresponsible off-road vehicle use. They are subject to looting, vandalism and neglect from underfunding. Working together we can reduce these threats with on-the-ground work, partnerships and advocacy. Threats to these lands also come from Congressional attacks on the Antiquities Act—a bedrock conservation law that has been used by 16 Presidents—8 from each party—to protect our nation’s heritage. Many of our national monuments and national parks would not exist today if they had not been protected under the Antiquities Act.