Eight Online Maps in Celebration of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act

Caitlin Dempsey


Signed into law on September 3, 1964 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Wilderness Act not only legally defined wilderness in the United States, it set aside 9.1 million acres (36,000 km²) of federal land for protection: “A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized 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 created the National Wilderness Preservation System and today there are 758 designated wilderness areas, totaling 109,511,966 acres (44,317,920 ha), or about 4.5% of the area of the United States.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, Wilderness50 (website no longer active) was launched by a coalition of agencies, organizations, and universities to help elevate wilderness protection.  

Esri also recently handpicked eight “influential online federal and nongovernmental maps that anyone can use to become part of the nation’s wilderness conservation effort”.  

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These map selections are highlighted below.  

1. Wilderness.net

In coordination with the Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and the National Park Service, The University of Montana has developed Wilderness.net, an online mapping tool which connects people to their wilderness heritage.

Users can also access the mobile site which provides access to maps by wilderness area or view maps by downloading free ArcGIS mobile app and then accessing the  National Wilderness Preservation System Map available on ArcGIS Online.  Users can also download GIS and GPS data.

Screenshot of Wilderness.net's interactive map.
Wilderness.net’s interactive map.

2. Protected Areas Viewer

The USGS has put together a map viewer that lets users see which areas of the United States are protected.  The Protected Areas Database of the United States (PAD-US) is the official inventory of protected open space in the United States.  

There are over 715 million acres of protected open space held in trust by thousands of different federal, state, and local governments, and nonprofit conservation organizations.  The data is used in the National Gap Analysis program which ranks lands by GAP conservation status codes to indicate the level of biodiversity protection.  The GIS data is available for users.

Protected Area Database Map Viewer from the USGS.
Protected Area Database Map Viewer from the USGS.

3. GeoCommunicator

Developed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), the site GeoCommunicator (website no longer active) provides public land descriptions, surveys, range allotments, and site-specific geospatial data for location-based decision making.

Citizens can use GeoCommunicator to see areas of critical environmental concern that the BLM manages. They can use the map to zoom to anywhere in the United States, find environmental concerns in areas near them, and take action.

Screenshot of GeoCommunicator by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).
GeoCommunicator by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM).

4. NPScape

The US National Park Service (NPS) developed NPScape (website no longer active), a map service that offers user friendly tools that help people get answers to their conservation questions.

For example, by combining total human-population by census block-group data with the location of Saguaro National Park, a land-use planner can easily create a map that shows urban sprawl relevant to wilderness areas.

Screenshot of NPScape from the National Park Service.
NPScape from the National Park Service.

5. National Wetlands Mapper

The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWSdesigned National Wetlands Mapper to promote the conservation and understanding of wetlands.

This easy-to-use GIS viewer is particularly useful to anyone wanting to integrate wetland data with other digital map data and better understand wetland relationships and patterns.

Screenshot of National Wetlands Mapper from the The US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS).
National Wetlands Mapper from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) .

6. Solar Energy Environmental Mapper

Solar Energy Environmental Mapper is an application sponsored by the US Department of Energy and the BLM. 

It is used by the Wilderness Society (TWS) to analyze the Solar Energy Development program in the west and reduce the impact of solar farms on wilderness areas. Agencies and the public have open access to this solar project data.

Screenshot of Solar Mapper.
Solar Mapper.

7. Conservation Almanac

The Trust for Public Land (TPL) developed the Conservation Almanac to geographically show conservation spending and statistics by location. Anyone can use the interactive map to discover, analyze, and map the results of federal, state, and local funding for land conservation all the way back to 1998.  

The site is set up for users to be able to answer the following conservation related questions:

  • How much land has been protected in my state?
  • What state, federal, and local agencies have protected lands in my state?
  • With all of the new money being created for land conservation, what kind of impact are we getting?
  • What policies and programs might help me make progress in reaching conservation objectives?
Screenshot of the Conservation Almanac.
Conservation Almanac.

8. Wilderness in Context

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History has opened a photography exhibition, Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America’s Wild Places, which will run through summer 2015.

To complement this exhibit, the Smithsonian has created story map called Wilderness in Context (website no longer active) that geographically provides vital wilderness information about size, remoteness, climate, and terrain.  

Users can also visit the  Wilderness Forever’s Explore the Photos, a story map lets users explore award winning wilderness photography across the American landscape.

Screenshot of Wilderness in Context.
Wilderness in Context


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About the author
Caitlin Dempsey
Caitlin Dempsey is the editor of Geography Realm and holds a master's degree in Geography from UCLA as well as a Master of Library and Information Science (MLIS) from SJSU.