The term wilderness is an administrative designation created under the Wilderness Act of 1964 applied to specific parcels of public lands. The wilderness designation enables preservation and protection of “Federal lands retaining primeval character and influence[1] and as such severely limits consumptive and motorized uses. A second component of this discussion has to do with lands under other special designations besides official wilderness areas, which also significantly restrict the types of allowable uses. The US Forest Service (USFS) special management classes include Research Natural Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, Roadless Areas, and Recommendation Wilderness Areas. The US Bureau of Land Management (BLM) special designations include Areas of Critical Environmental Concern, Wilderness Study Areas, and Resource Conservation Areas.


Map of Data

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Resource Information

The purpose of Congressionally designated wilderness is to protect lands that provide opportunities for, or are in the condition of [1]:

  • Untrammeled
  • Natural
  • Undeveloped
  • Solitude or Primitive and Unconfined Recreation
  • Unique, Supplemental, or Other Features

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 local planning documents. For the Wasatch Front, this includes forest management plans from the Wasatch-Cache National Forest and resource management plans from the US Bureau of Land Management Salt Lake City Field Office. As part of each plan, management agencies inventory lands to identify areas which have wilderness characteristics.

Pertinent planning documents

Wilderness qualifications include [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 which appear to qualify as wilderness are designated as Recommended Wilderness areas (USFS) or Wilderness Study Areas (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 and Wilderness Study Areas are then managed as default wilderness until Congress either designates the Wilderness Study Areas (WSA) as wilderness or returns the land to the agency for other management purposes.

Recommended Wilderness and Wilderness Study Areas within the WFRC region.
NameAgencyManagement Status
Upper South Fork (Weber County)Forest ServiceRecommended Wilderness
Deep Creek Mountains (Tooele County)US Bureau of Land ManagementWilderness Study Areas
Stansbury MountainsUS Bureau of Land ManagementWilderness Study Areas

Lands officially designated as Wilderness become part of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS), which currently contains 765 wilderness areas encompassing an area of 109,129,657 acres.[3]  The BLM Wilderness is also included in the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS).

Use the data layers to identify areas of the county that are designated as wilderness or that have wilderness characteristics.

Best Management Practices

Both the BLM and USFS have agency policies and directives regarding the management of wilderness lands.[4,5]

Economic Considerations
The economic effect of wilderness designation is the subject of ongoing debate. For example, when several proposals were made in the early 1990s to increase acres of wilderness in Utah, a 1992 Government Accountability Office (GAO) study investigated a claim that designating 3.2 million acres of land as wilderness in Utah would cost the state $9.2 billion annually in future earnings.[6] The GAO study countered claim by a 1990 study that had cited adverse economic effects of wilderness designation in Utah.[7] The debate over the economic impact of designating wilderness areas continues in Utah. A 2010 Utah State University report investigated contradictory claims about the economic impact of designating wilderness areas in Utah.[8]

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:

  • Non-motorized 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
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 Landscape Conservation System contains wilderness areas, wilderness study areas and national conservation areas3/21/20141:24,000Bureau of Land Management in Utah
USFS Roadless Areas (2001)
2001 Roadless Area Conservation Rule (36 CFR 294, Subpart B)7/21/20001:100,000USDA Forest Service
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 Wild and Scenic River System
River segments from USFS, BLM, FWS, and NPS 20091:24,000National Atlas of the United States
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. Wilderness.net. n.d. Fast Facts About America’s Wildernesses. Accessed: 1/13/16.
  4. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service. 2007. Forest Service Manual 2300 – Wilderness Management.
  5. U.S. Department of Interior, Bureau of Land Management. 2012. BLM Manual 6340 – Management of Designated Wilderness (Public).
  6. U.S. General Accounting Office. 1992. Wilderness: Effects of Designation on Economy and Grazing in Utah. Report to the Honorable Wayne Owens, House of Representatives. December.
  7. Leaming, G. F. 1990. The Adverse Economic Impacts of Wilderness Land Withdrawals on Utah. Western Economic Analysis Center, Marana, AZ. January.
  8. Yonk, R., B.C. Steed, and R. Simmons. 2010. The Local Impact of Wilderness: An Overtime Analysis of Wilderness Designation. Working Draft.