What’s the Technical Difference Between a National Park, Wilderness Area, Wildlife Refuge, Etc.?


What’s the technical difference between a national park, wilderness area, wildlife refuge, etc.?   

Tatum Brown
Nacogdoches, Texas 

A lot of people scratch their heads about this. A good starting place is to consider the great fortune each United States citizen has: We inherit 623 million acres, thanks to the foresight of earlier generations. Those lands come in four varieties: national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges and western areas overseen by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM, the largest of the four).

The Wilderness Act, signed into law in 1964, created the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). It empowered Congress to permanently protect undeveloped tracts within our 623 million public acres by making them part of the Wilderness System. These areas then belong to not only, say, Yosemite National Park but to the NWPS, as well.

What difference does it make? If land inside Yosemite becomes a wilderness area, it must remain free of roads and structures. Motorized equipment and mechanical transport are not permitted. One myth is that hunting is not allowed in wilderness. In fact, a person may hunt in a wilderness area unless it is within a national park; hunting is illegal in most parks and many wildlife refuges.

2/13/2016 10:40:46 AM

Charlotte is correct. This doesn't provide any information as to the actual distinctions between the different National designations. Would love it if someone would actually explain the differences. Thank you.

Charlotte Coles
6/7/2012 8:26:58 PM

I'm sorry, but you don't explain the difference between the three types of wildernss protection very well...

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