Resource Management

How are wildlife and fish managed in wilderness?

Non-commercial hunting, fishing, and trapping are allowed in most Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service and Forest Service wildernesses, and some managed by the National Park Service. States and the federal government are jointly responsible for management of wildlife and fish and must work together to meet common objectives. Wildlife species may be introduced and fish species may be stocked in order to perpetuate or recover a threatened or endangered species, or to restore a native species that has been eliminated or reduced by human influence.

Exotic species may not be stocked. Habitat may be manipulated only when it is necessary to correct conditions resulting from human influence or to protect threatened or endangered species. Research and management surveys are permitted if done in a manner compatible with the preservation of the wilderness resource.

How is commercial grazing managed in wilderness?

Where previously established, commercial grazing (i.e. cattle, sheep, etc. within permitted grazing allotments) may continue in wilderness, where it was occurring prior to designation. Permittees may be allowed to maintain range improvements, such as fences and watering facilities, that are necessary to the livestock operation or the protection of the range.

The use of motorized equipment may be permitted where it occurred prior to the establishment of wilderness. New range improvements, such as fences and watering holes, may be made where they are the minimum necessary to protect wilderness values and manage the range resource. Prescribed burning, noxious weed control, seeding, irrigation, fertilization, and liming may be allowed where each activity was practiced prior to wilderness designation, when absolutely necessary for the grazing operation, and where there would be no serious adverse impacts on wilderness values.

Is mining allowed in wilderness?

The Wilderness Act of 1964, and subsequent wilderness legislation, withdraws lands in designated wilderness from appropriation under the mining and mineral leasing laws, subject to valid existing rights. Prior to designation as wilderness, mining claims may have been made on public lands. Mining operations may continue after designation, subject to strict regulation to protect wilderness characteristics. Holders of valid mineral leases retain the rights granted by the terms and conditions of the specific leases.

Holders of valid mining claims are allowed to conduct operations necessary for the development, production, and processing of the mineral resource. Mechanical transport, motorized equipment, and access to utility corridors may be used after a determination that they are the minimum necessary. However, these activities and the reclamation of all disturbed lands must minimize the impact on the surrounding wilderness character.

How can private landowners get access to private land within wilderness?

State and privately-owned land may occasionally become completely surrounded by wilderness. These lands are termed inholdings. Inholding landowners retain the right of adequate access to the inholding, subject to restrictions that are necessary to insure protection of wilderness values. Restrictions are determined on a case-by-case basis and can include prohibiting certain types of transportation (such as the use of vehicles), prohibiting the use of certain routes by certain types of transportation, or prohibiting the use of certain routes altogether.

If landowners are willing and funds are available, the Federal government may purchase such inholdings. The land may also be exchanged for federally-owned land of approximately equal value within the same state. The Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act (ANILCA) of 1980 contains special provisions for access to non-Federal lands within wilderness in Alaska.

How are water resources managed in wilderness?

New dams and water development structures, other than those necessary for range and wildlife, can only be authorized by the President. Existing reservoirs, ditches, water catchments and related facilities for the control or use of water can be maintained or reconstructed if they meet a public need, or are part of a valid existing right. Motorized equipment and mechanical transportation for maintenance of water development structures is not allowed unless it was practiced before the area was designated wilderness or unless it is determined to be the minimum necessary tool or technique.

Watershed restoration is permitted only where human activities have caused soil deterioration or other loss of wilderness values, where watershed conditions could cause unacceptable environmental impacts or threaten life or property outside the wilderness, and where natural revegetation is insufficient.

What is the fire management policy in wilderness?

Fire in wilderness is managed to permit lightning-caused fires to play their natural ecological role within wilderness, and to reduce, to an acceptable level, the risks and consequences of catastrophic wildfire and of fire escaping from wilderness. Naturally ignited fires may be used and managed as part of wildland fire use in wildernesses that have approved fire management plans, as long as the fire meets and remains within established criteria.

Prescribed fires, ignited by qualified personnel, may be used to reduce fuel buildups within wilderness, when approved in fire management plans. These plans detail wilderness fire management objectives for the area, historic fire occurrence, the natural role of fire, expected fire behavior, appropriate fire suppression action and acceptable suppression techniques, smoke management, and effects on adjacent landowners and wilderness visitors. 

Most fires are detected from aircraft overflights and lookouts located outside the wilderness boundary, although some lookouts are maintained within wilderness. Fire suppression crews protect natural and cultural features by using suppression tactics that minimize the lasting evidence of suppression actions. Motorized equipment is used only when essential, water is used instead of fire retardants when possible. Watershed restoration in burned areas is allowed where conditions cause unnatural resource loss or threaten life or property outside wilderness.

How are insects and diseases controlled in wilderness?

Insects and diseases are a natural part of the ecosystem and are not controlled, unless epidemics are expected to cause unacceptable damage to adjacent lands and resources, or exotic species are expected to cause an unnatural loss to the wilderness resource. Noxious weeds and invasive non-native plant species may be eradicated by physical means, such as grubbing when the infestations are isolated, and herbicides may be used when absolutely necessary.

Are tree cutting and planting allowed in wilderness?

Timber harvest is not allowed in wilderness. Trees and shrubs may be cut for valid mining claims; under emergency conditions such as fire, insect, and disease control; and in the construction and maintenance of authorized improvements, such as trails or bridges, when the necessary material needed to build the improvement cannot be reasonably obtained elsewhere. In the latter case, the cutting is done away from trails or campsites and the evidence of cutting removed as much as possible. Dead and downed material can be cut by wilderness visitors for campfires in most wildernesses, subject to local restrictions.

Planting or seeding is allowed only in rare instances to correct conditions caused by human activities or for emergency situations when natural revegetation is insufficient. Native and local species are required and primitive methods, such as hand planting, are generally used. Only true native species or species that pose no threat to the existing gene pool should be used for emergency rehabilitation. Often a temporary species that will quickly give way to natives without hybridizing is the best way to protect wilderness values and unique gene resources in emergency rehabilitation situations.

What is being done to protect air quality in wilderness?

The Clean Air Act requires that Federal land managers review new source permit applications that would affect Class I areas, which include 88 National Forest wildernesses and 48 National Parks designated between 1964 and 1977. The emerging air resource management programs involve wilderness managers who must decide which resources are to be protected in wilderness, and air quality specialists who will inventory and monitor air quality-related values in Class I areas, review Prevention of Significant Deterioration permit applications, provide recommendations to regulating agencies, and coordinate with air regulatory agencies and other federal and state land management agencies. Wildernesses designated after 1977 are Class II areas.

How are historic and archeological resources managed in wilderness?

Cultural features, such as archeological sites, historic trails or routes, or structures that have been included within wilderness, are protected and maintained using methods that are consistent with the preservation of wilderness character and values and cultural resource protection requirements. Preservation activities such as salvage rehabilitation, stabilization, reconstruction, restoration, excavation, and intensive inventories are approved on a case-by-case basis, if they will not degrade the overall wilderness character of the area.

Cultural resource sites, that appear to qualify, are nominated for the National Register of Historic Places. Unless they are needed to provide wilderness benefits or serve administrative purposes, those sites or structures that do not qualify for the National Register could be allowed to deteriorate naturally, or be removed or destroyed. Interpretation of sites is done outside of wilderness, except for verbal interpretations by wilderness rangers.

Can scientific research be conducted in wilderness?

Research is considered a valid and important use of the wilderness resource and is encouraged as long as projects do not degrade the wilderness character and they are wilderness dependent in nature. Research and monitoring devices may be installed and operated in wilderness only when the desired information is essential and cannot be obtained from a location outside of wilderness, and the proposed device is the minimum tool necessary to accomplish the objective safely and successfully.

If proposed studies are not compatible with wilderness values, managers work with applicants to find alternate locations or methods of access. For example, the Forest Service participated in a national survey of wilderness lakes conducted by the Environmental Protection Agency in 1986. Helicopter access to sample the lakes was initially requested, but the Forest Service proposed and helped complete the sampling using foot or horse travel.

Inventory of the physical and biological resources is often needed to provide current baseline information, to serve as a benchmark for environmentally induced change in the future, to support other scientific studies, and to monitor the impacts that recreational uses have on wilderness resources.

What is different about wilderness in Alaska?

In recognition of the special conditions that exist in Alaska, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act of 1980 (ANILCA) allowed many activities that may be permitted in wilderness that would otherwise not conform to the Wilderness Act of 1964. Most notable are motorized access for traditional uses and subsistence activities, modification of fish habitat and establishment of fish hatchery programs, construction of a limited number of new recreation cabins or shelters to protect public health and safety, use of trees for house logs and firewood, and commercial salvage of beach logs. Temporary facilities, such as tent platforms and shelters, may be established for hunting and fishing.