On Sept. 3, 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law one of our country’s greatest conservation laws, the Wilderness Act. This historic bill established the National Wilderness Preservation System and set aside an initial 9.1 million acres of wildlands for the use and enjoyment of the American people. Over the past 50 years, and as a result of America’s support for wilderness, Congress has added nearly 100 million more acres to this unique land preservation system — including more than 1.6 million acres and 25 wilderness areas in New Mexico.

The 1964 Wilderness Act defines “wilderness” as areas “where the earth and its community of life … appear to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable …” Today, these wildlands are among the last repositories of nature’s bounty. Worthy and valuable in their own right, they also provide natural services that are essential to the health of American communities. Wildlands and natural systems filter the air we breathe and the water we drink; they generate fertile soils, control pests that destroy crops, provide habitat for wildlife, sequester carbon pollution and control floods.

They also contribute to the multibillion dollar outdoor recreation economy and provide important opportunities for people from all backgrounds to reconnect with nature and with each other.Time spent in nature, whether at the ends of the earth or a local park, is an opportunity to know, and feel, the value of wilderness. America’s wilderness is a living legacy that all Americans should have the opportunity to experience.

Looking to the next 50 years it’s important to carry on that legacy by continuing to permanently protect special places.

On the anniversary of the Wilderness Act, please use your voice not only to celebrate America’s wild places, but also to advocate for the protection of wilderness in New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks and the Carson National Forest.

Earlier this year, the community celebrated the designation of Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks as a national monument when President Obama used his authority under the Antiquities Act to protect nearly 500,000 acres of this special place. The Organ Mountains tower 9,000 feet tall just east of Las Cruces and support wildlife and historical national treasures that draw tourists from around the world. But there are still 241,000 acres of wilderness in the Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks area that need to be protected despite the monument designation — including more mountains, more wildlife habitats, and more destinations for outdoors enthusiasts.

Sens. Tom Udall, D-NM, and Martin Heinrich, D-NM, and Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-NM, have also introduced legislation to protect 45,000 acres of wilderness north of Taos in the Carson National Forest, the Columbine-Hondo Wilderness Act (H.R. 1683/S. 776). The area encompasses the Sangre de Cristo Mountains, including Gold Hill, its highest peak and is home to elk, mountain lion, black bear, pine marten, and Rio Grande cutthroat trout. It also contains the headwaters for two rivers that supply water to the Acequias used by the local community.

Please support the wilderness designation of these areas and more — for the benefit of New Mexico, the United States, and future generations.

Virginia Cramer is senior press secretary of the Sierra Club.