John Muir Creek John Muir Wilderness, California

Glossary of Acronyms & Terms

Wilderness and environmental advocacy are full of terms of art and acronyms. Here is a listing of some of the more commonly used ones. If you come across others you would like to see added, or if you think something should be added to these explanations, let us know. We’ll update the list from time to time.

Federal lands which are designated by act of Congress as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, using the Wilderness Act of 1964. The requirement is that they be untrammeled, where people are visitors rather than permanent residents, and human development is relatively insignificant. There is not a legal requirement that Wilderness lands be roadless, although generally boundaries are drawn alongside roads. If a road clearly has not been used in a long time and is reverting to a natural state, it can be included. The same goes for structures like miners’ cabins. (California has its own state wilderness areas as well.)

WSA (Wilderness Study Area)
Lands not yet formally designated by Congress as Wilderness. However, the managing agency has officially designated them to be managed in a way which does not impair their suitability for Wilderness designation at a later date.

NCA (National Conservation Area)
An area protected to some degree or other by act of Congress. It may or may not contain wilderness. There is no legally defined level of protection for NCAs in general. Each is unique, as defined by the specific legislation setting it up.

EIS (Environmental Impact Statement)
Required by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) whenever the government embarks on a project likely to have a significant effect on the natural or human environment. The government must prepare a comprehensive report outlining alternatives to the proposed action which reflect a full range of options, including a no action alternative, meaning do nothing. (For projects undertaken by the state of California, they are known as EIRs, Environmental Impact Reports). If a government agency finds negligible impact on the environment from a project, it issues a so-called negative declaration.

DEIS (Draft Environmental Impact Statement)
Just that. These are available for the public to comment on, for periods of 60 – 90 days generally. The stated deadline is a POSTMARK deadline, and the agency is required by law to respond in the final EIS in some way to all comments postmarked by the deadline. Comments received after the deadline must still be taken into account when preparing the final EIS, but the agency is under no obligation to respond to them.

EA (Environmental Assessment)
Similar to an EIS, but not nearly as complex or rigorous. Usually used on smaller projects with lesser impact. (Sometimes the writer Edward Abbey is referred to simply as EA.)

Federal Register
The official government listing of all rules, proposed rules, and notices of the federal government, including presidential proclamations. It can be found back to 1994 online at

RS 2477
Law passed in 1866, stating: The right of way for the construction of highways over public lands not reserved for public uses is hereby granted. The law was repealed in 1976, but continues to be a source of contention. Rural counties in the West claim it gives them the right to use any route that exists across public land. The federal government, on the other hand, claims that many of these are not roads because: they were never constructed; they aren’t highways; and many appeared after 1976.

ORV, OHV, ATV (Off-road vehicle, off-highway vehicle, all-terrain vehicle)
Vehicles designed to be driven on surfaces other than roads. Probably the greatest threat right now to wilderness in the West, after oil and gas production. Advances in technology are allowing them to penetrate farther and farther into wild areas. They cause erosion and pollution (estimates of the gas and oil they expel unburned run as high as 30%). Use has increased dramatically in the last few years. There is plenty of land available to them to drive around in. There is no need for wilderness areas to be sacrificed for them.

BLM (Bureau of Land Management)
Federal agency within the Dept. of the Interior, responsible for all federal land not under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, National Forest Service, Fish & Wildlife Service, or Dept. of Defense. Traditionally it has been in favor of grazing and extractive industries (oil, gas, coal) but this is changing—in Utah more slowly than in other places. However, the BLM recently has been given jurisdiction over some national monuments, the first being the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah, known by its initials GSENM.

BLM Conservation Lands
Originally called the National Landscape Conservation System (NLCS), these are lands managed by the BLM especially for their conservation values. The system was set up by Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt under President Bill Clinton. It now includes over 886 federally recognized areas and approximately 27 million acres of National Monuments, National Conservation Areas, Wilderness Areas, Wilderness Study Areas, Wild and Scenic Rivers, National Scenic and Historic Trails, and Conservation Lands of the California Desert. Visit the BLM’s Conservation Lands page here.