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.


  • 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.

Subject Area Connections

  • Coins & Mint


  • 3rd
  • 4th
  • 5th

Class Time

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


Background Knowledge

Students will have a basic knowledge of the following: 

  • Wild
  • Nature
  • Mountains
  • River
  • Idaho

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.


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

Common Core Standards

This lesson plan is not associated with any Common Core Standards.

National Standards

National Social Studies Standards

Civics - Dimension 2

  • Civic and Political Institutions: By the end of Grade 5, individually and with others, students will be able to:
    • Explain how a democracy relies on people's responsible participation, and draw implications for how individuals should participate (D2.Civ.2.3-5);
    • Explain how groups of people make rules to create responsibilities and protect freedoms (D2.Civ.4.3-5).
  • Processes, Rules, and Laws: By the end of Grade 5, individually and with others, students will be able to:
    • Explain how policies are developed to address public problems (D2.Civ.13.3-5).

Geography - Dimension 2

  • Geographic Representations: By the end of Grade 5, individually and with others, students will be able to:
    • Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their environmental characteristics (D2.Geo.2.3-5);
    • Use maps of different scales to describe the locations of cultural and environmental characteristics (D2.Geo.3.3-5).
  • Human-Environment Interaction: By the end of Grade 5, individually and with others, students will be able to:
    • Explain how culture influences the way people modify and adapt to their environments (D2.Geo.4.3-5).

Communicating Conclusions & Taking Informed Action - Dimension 4

  • Taking Informed Action: By the end of Grade 5, individually and with others, students will be able to:
    • Explain different strategies and approaches students and others could take in working alone and together to address local, regional, and global problems, and predict possible results of their actions (D4.7.3-5).