Call of the Wild: Protecting and Conserving America’s Wilderness


Students will explore what wilderness is, why it's important, understand its scientific and cultural value, and brainstorm ways to protect and conserve it for future generations.

Coin Type(s)

  • Quarter

Coin Program(s)

  • America the Beautiful Quarters


  • Students will learn what wilderness is and why it is important.
  • Students will learn about the Wilderness Act of 1964 and its implications for protected areas, including Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho.
  • Students will understand the scientific and cultural value of protecting and conserving the wilderness and brainstorm ways to protect and conserve it for future generations.

Major Subject Area Connections

  • Social Studies
  • Science
  • Economics


  • 3rd
  • 4th
  • 5th

Class Time

  • Sessions: Three
  • Session Length: 30-45 minutes
  • Total Length: 91-120 minutes


  • Whole group
  • Small groups
  • Individual work

Background Knowledge

Students will have a basic knowledge of the following: 

  • Wild
  • Nature
  • Mountains
  • River
  • Idaho

Terms and Concepts

  • Wilderness
  • Wilderness Act of 1964
  • Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness
  • Conserve
  • Benefits
  • Threats
  • Solutions



  • Bookmark the links above in advance.
  • Make copies of the worksheets about Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness.

Worksheets and Files

Lesson Steps

Session One

Essential Questions: What is wilderness? What does wilderness mean to you?

  1. Write or project the word "wilderness" on a dry erase board, chalkboard, and/or interactive whiteboard. As an individual warm up activity, ask students to write 2-3 sentences and/or draw a picture about what they think wilderness is. Use the "What Is Wilderness?" Journaling Activity worksheet, as needed.
  2. Ask students to share out their responses to what wilderness is, either by sharing their 2-3 sentences with the class or by conducting a word association exercise, where you ask students to state the first thoughts that come into their mind when they hear or read the word "wilderness". If needed, underline or put a square around "wild", and have students contribute words that they associate with "wild" to infer or predict the meaning of "wilderness".
  3. Introduce the definition of wilderness using the United States Forest Service's video, "Episode 1: Wilderness, Preservation & Protection" at
  4. After watching the video, revisit the original wilderness definition. Ask students to define what wilderness is or make revisions to their original prediction or definition. Definitions of wilderness include:
    1. The video defines wilderness as, "a federal designation of a piece of land that is within a national forest, a national park, a national wildlife refuge, or part of the Bureau of Land Management system. It's a place where we can go and not see the impacts of humans, for the most part, and see how the landscape of our country is supposed to be."
    2. The video also defines wilderness as, "Wilderness is a place where we can go and see nature as it should be where it's acting on its own terms."
    3. The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as, "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain."
  5. Explain to students that today, there are over 760 wilderness areas covering more than 109 million acres that are part of the National Wilderness Preservation System, which is managed by the Forest Service and three other federal land management agencies. One example of a national wilderness is the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness in Idaho.
  6. As part of the America the Beautiful Quarters® Program, the U.S. Mint features many national parks and historical sites on quarters that are specific to a state, territory, or district. In 2019, the Idaho quarter features the largest contiguous wilderness in the lower 48 states – the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness, which is approximately 2.3 million acres. Show students a visual of the quarter, including the reverse, found on the U.S. Mint's website: Ask students to identify what parts of the wilderness they see that are featured on the quarter.
  7. Ask students if they have experienced wilderness before, and if so, how? Did they go camping? Have they hiked before? If students have not experienced wilderness before, ask them to imagine what it would be like. Explain to students that wilderness has a different and unique meaning to everyone. One way to think about what wilderness means to you is to think about the five senses. Using the worksheet "Exploring Wilderness" as a guide, model to students how to think about wilderness using each of the five senses.
    1.  For example, "When I was a kid, I went camping with my family in the mountains every summer. We went hiking and saw many different parts of nature, including waterfalls and creeks. I remember everything looking very green and vivid. I also remember hearing lots of sounds, including the sound of water flowing down the creek, birds chirping, and the crunch of leaves under my feet. I remember the smell of honeysuckles and sunscreen. I remember how soft the plants felt and how cool the rocks were when I sat down to take a break. I remember the refreshing taste of water from the creeks when we were refilling our water bottles and the taste of trail mix after a long hike.
  8.  Have students complete the worksheet "Exploring Wilderness" either independently or in a small group.
  9. Once students have completed the exercise, have students share out their responses of what wilderness means to them with the whole group.

Session Two

Essential Questions: Why is wilderness important? What are the benefits of wilderness?

  1. Review what wilderness is and remind students that it has a unique and special meaning to everyone. Ask students to answer the question, "Why is wilderness important?" in 2-3 sentences. As needed, use the "Why Is Wilderness Important?" Journaling Activity worksheet.
  2. Ask students to make some predictions as to why wilderness is important and record the responses on a T-chart via whiteboard or chalkboard. Explain to students that in 1964, the government passed a law, the Wilderness Act of 1964, with the purpose to "preserve and protect the natural ecosystems and wild areas and also provide opportunities for solitude and retrospective or primitive recreation."
  3. Explain that the wilderness helps the environment and economy. It provides valuable personal, cultural, and scientific benefits. Tell students that the purpose of this session is to learn more about the benefits of the wilderness and why it is important.
  4. Watch the video, "Episode 4: The Value of Wilderness" found at
  5. Explain to students that there are a lot of benefits of the wilderness that the video mentioned, as well as some other benefits that the video did not include. Using the T-chart with the predictions, compare student predictions with what was discussed in the video and determine if the predictions are correct; if they are incorrect, revise them as needed.
  6. Using the worksheet "Wilderness Benefits", model to students how to think about listing out some of the benefits of wilderness across three categories: scientific, historical, and personal.
    1. Examples of scientific benefits mentioned include: clean water, clean air, protection of wildlife species and natural habitats. If needed, provide additional resources for students to learn about scientific benefits:
      1. Ecological Benefits of Wilderness:
      2. Scientific Benefits of Wilderness:
    2.  Examples of historical benefits can include: learning about the human relationship with the wild via archeological sites, cave paintings, burial grounds; what nature is intended to look like without humans; and cultural values including freedom, ingenuity, and independence. If needed, provide additional resources for students to learn about historical/cultural benefits:
      1. Historical/Cultural Benefits of Wilderness:
    3. Examples of personal benefits include: self-reflection, self-reliance, refuge, and being present. If needed, provide additional resources for students to learn about personal benefits:
      1. Benefits of Wilderness (see: Direct v. Indirect):
  7. Allow students to complete the worksheet "Wilderness Benefits" either individually or in a small group. Once completed, ask students to share some of their answers with the large group.

Session Three

Essential Questions: What are threats to wilderness? How can you protect and preserve wilderness for future use?

  1. Review with students what wilderness is from Session One and discuss some of the benefits of wilderness as explored in Session Two. Explain that during this session, students are going to discuss various threats to wilderness and brainstorm ways to protect and conserve it for future use.
  2.  Ask a student to define what a "threat" is. Explain to students that a threat is a person or thing likely to cause damage or danger. For example, a hurricane can pose a major threat to coastal cities and towns. Wilderness also faces many threats. Although the Wilderness Act of 1964 protects the land, there are many factors that still threaten the wilderness. Ask students to brainstorm what types of factors may affect the wilderness.
    1. Examples of threats include: climate change, invasive species and disease, lack of public awareness, overuse, pollution, and technology. If needed, provide additional resources for students to learn more about the threats to wilderness for the following topics:
      1. Climate Change:
      2. Invasive Species and Disease:
      3. Lack of Public Awareness:
      4. Overuse:
      5. Pollution:
      6. Technology:
      7. Fire:
  3.  Write the word "conserve" on the Board. Ask students to brainstorm or discuss what the definition of conserve is. Conserve is a verb meaning "to protect something, especially and environmentally or culturally important place or thing from harm or destruction." Ask students why they think it's important to conserve something like the wilderness and include examples of threats they previously identified in the session.
  4. Watch the video, "Episode 5: Our Wilderness Heritage" found at After the video, ask students to identify things they can do today to help protect and conserve the wilderness. Examples include:
    1. Clean up
    2. Set a good example
    3. Start right now
    4. Keep the areas wild
    5. Visit the wilderness
    6. Help to preserve the wilderness
    7. Join conservation programs
  5.  Using the worksheet, "Wilderness Threats and Solutions", model to students how to complete the graphic organizer. Using one of the threats discussed earlier in the session, discuss with students a potential solution. For example, a threat to the wilderness is pollution. A potential solution to pollution is to clean up after yourself and encourage others to do the same.
  6.  Have students complete the worksheet "Wilderness Threats and Solutions" either individually or in small groups and share their responses once complete.

Differentiated Learning Options

  • Group students together during the research phase.
  • Have students present their research and written response orally.
  • Allow students to use a scribe or computer to complete graphic organizer, project, and/or presentation.


  • Have students research a wilderness near them or within the United States using the interactive map tool from Wilderness Connect ( and research key facts about the wilderness, including the name, date established, location, size, geographic features, and natural resources. Discuss the findings with the larger group.
  • Have students complete a journaling activity, where they are on their own imaginary wilderness journey. They must include sensory statements for each of the five senses and descriptive words detailing their journey.
  • Have students design and write a postcard from a wilderness in the United States. Have students describe their wilderness adventure and the reasons why it's important to preserve the wilderness for future generations.
  • Have students imagine what their local community, neighborhood, or school may have looked like before humans developed it. Have them either write a description of what it would have looked like or a picture with a caption describing the scenery.
  • Have students research the various components of nature in a local or national wilderness area. This can include the species of trees, artifacts, rivers, fish, insects, etc. Assign or have each student choose one component to research and learn more about their role in the larger ecosystem. Have each student present their information in a creative manner (i.e., banner, PowerPoint slide, social media feed, website mock-up, journal, newspaper article, diorama, model, etc.) and share with the larger group the role their species plays in the larger ecosystem. Discuss potential dependencies that each species has within their environment and how it can be disrupted by threats to wilderness.
  • Watch the U.S. Forest Service's full film, Untrammeled, an inspiring film about passing the torch for wilderness for the next generation. After watching the film, ask students to reflect on the narratives in the film and write or discuss the reasons why wilderness is important, both now and to future generations. The videos include the film's trailer ( and full version (


Evaluate the research, project/presentation, and students' participation to assess how well the students have met the lesson objectives.

Integrated Standards

Idaho State Standards: Social Studies

Standard 2: Geography

Grade(s): 3, 4, 5

Goal 2.1: Analyze the spatial organizations of people, places, and environment on the earth's surface. 

  • By the end of Grade 3, the student will be able to:
    • Find the United States, Washington, D.C., Idaho, the state capital Boise, and your own community on a map (3.SS.2.1.2);
    • Locate on a map waterways, landforms, cities, states, and national boundaries, using standard map symbols (3.SS.2.1.3).
  • By the end of Grade 4, the student will be able to:
    • Describe the physical regions of Idaho, and identify major natural resources (4.SS.2.1.4).
  • By the end of Grade 5, the student will be able to:
    • Develop and use different kinds of maps, globes, graphs, charts, databases, and models to display and obtain information (5.SS.2.1.1);
    • Identify the regions of the United States and their resources (5.SS.2.1.2).

Goal 2.3: Trace the migration and settlement of human populations on the earth's surface.

  • By the end of Grade 4, the student will be able to:
    • Identify the geographic features of Idaho, and explain their impact on settlement (4.SS.2.3.3).

Standard 3: Economics

Grade(s): 3

Goal 3.2: Identify different influences on economic systems.

  • By the end of Grade 3, the student will be able to:
    • Explain how land, natural resources, labor, trade, and/or technology affect economic activities in the local community (3.SS.3.2.1).

Standard 4: Civics and Government

Grades: 3, 4, 5

Goal 4.1: Build an understanding of the foundational principles of the American political system.

  • By the end of Grade 4, the student will be able to:
  • Explain that rules and laws can be used to protect rights, provide benefits, and assign responsibilities (4.SS.4.1.2).

Goal 4.2: Build an understanding of the organization and formation of the American system of government.

  • By the end of Grade 5, the student will be able to:
    • Distinguish and compare responsibilities among state, national, and tribal governments in a federal system. Idaho Content Standards/Social Studies/08-11-16 27 (5.SS.4.2.1);
    • Explain the difference between State public lands and Federal public lands (5.SS.4.2.3).

Goal 4.3: Build an understanding that all people in the United States have rights and assume responsibilities. 

  • By the end of Grade 3, the student will be able to:
  • Identify ways children and adults can participate in their community and/or local governments (3.SS.4.3.1).