The Wilderness Society (WS) professes a dedication to bringing "scientific expertise, analysis and bold advocacy at the highest levels to save, protect and restore America's wilderness areas." The organization's principal objectives include lobbying against oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Wildlife Refuge and elsewhere; halting logging and road-construction efforts on 58 million acres of unused land; and banning the use of off-road vehicles in U.S. woodlands.
Founded in 1935, the Wilderness Society claims that during its history, it has "protected" more than 105 million acres of American wilderness from both industrial and recreational "intrusions." WS pursues this objective by: (a) working with Congress to "win passage of legislation protecting wilderness and wild lands; gain adequate federal funding to ensure good management of the lands; [and] defend places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge from oil drilling"; (b) working with federal agencies to "ensure that wild places stay that way while awaiting wilderness protection; [and] safeguard the land through our involvement in management decisions about such things as oil and gas development, off road vehicle use, and logging"; and (c) working in communities to "determine local areas that need protecting; gain funding to purchase key areas for parks and playgrounds; [and] build diversified support for wildland protection."
WS recognizes the important role that limited, controlled fires can play in diminishing the risk of major forest fires. Toward this end, the organization has introduced a "Wildland Fire Program," an interdisciplinary initiative "designed to return fire to fire-dependent ecosystems in a socially acceptable manner." Yet while WS approves of thinning excessive undergrowth through this practice, it opposes logging enterprises that could accomplish the same objective. During the Spring of 2003, President Bush urged Congress to pass his "Healthy Forest Initiative," which sought to "improve the health of our nation's forests and rangeland" by thinning out (by means of logging) dense undergrowth and deadwood in America's woodlands. In response, WS threatened "to file lawsuits if necessary to stop the administration from adopting regulations and logging plans that violate environmental laws and jeopardize the integrity of our national forests and other public lands." In WS's view, any intervention by mankind in the natural world is by definition intrusive, unethical, and destructive if it carries with it the potential for financial profit.
WS President William Meadows, who also sits on the Directors' Board of the League of Conservation Voters, has been particularly critical of the Bush administration, which he alleges has "declared war on the environment." By contrast, Meadows has praised the conservation efforts of former President Bill Clinton, whose administration created the Gap Analysis Program which targeted vast tracts of private properties for "preservation" (by government agencies and land trusts) through conservation easements and purchase. At the end of Clinton's second term, Meadows said, "From Florida to Alaska, Americans can celebrate one of the nation's greatest environmental achievements as President Clinton and the Forest Service today protected nearly 60 million acres of the nation's wild forests from logging and other development."
The Wilderness Society receives its principal funding from Pew Charitable Trusts (PCT), which granted the organization nearly $3 million between 1996 and 2005. WS is also supported by the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Turner Foundation, the Blue Moon Fund, the Bullitt Foundation, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America, the Energy Foundation, the Foundation for Deep Ecology, the Vira I. Heinz Endowment, the Minneapolis Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the David and Lucile Packard Foundation, the Surdna Foundation, the Turner Foundation, and many others.
Regarding WS's accounting practices, Sacramento Bee journalist Tom Knudson writes, "Many environmental groups, the Wilderness Society included ... use a legal accounting loophole to call much of what they spend on fundraising 'public education.' In 1999, for instance, the Wilderness Society spent $1.46 million on a major membership campaign consisting of 6.2 million letters. But when it came time to disclose that bill in its annual report, the society shifted 87 percent -- $1.27 million -- to public education. The group also shrank a $94,411 telemarketing bill by deciding [that] 71 percent was public education."
WS is a member of the Save Our Environment Action Center, a leftist coalition that describes itself as "a collaborative effort of the nation's most influential environmental advocacy organizations harnessing the power of the [I]nternet to increase public awareness and activism on today's most important environmental issues."