Cultural Resources

The Cultural Resources toolbox is a ‘work in progress’ and represents information available to date on this subject. Contact us to suggest new materials for inclusion.



This toolbox contains material pertaining to the stewardship of cultural resources in wilderness. It is not a comprehensive site for finding all materials necessary for managing cultural resources elsewhere. In addition, because of the many cultural resource laws and recent court findings, it is important to keep in mind that different agencies -- and different geographical regions in our agencies -- have interpreted the finer points of cultural resource management in wilderness differently. Be sure to check with you Regional or State Offices.

Basis in the Wilderness Act

The Wilderness Act states in Section 2(c)(4) that wildernesses "may contain features of scientific, educational...or historical value."

Where present, cultural resources are part of this "unique" quality of wilderness character. Of the hundreds of wilderness areas that Congress has designated, many, but not all, are rich in cultural resources. Cultural resources have not been identified in some areas, and their presence is clearly not required for an area to be wilderness. But where those resources have been identified, they may be among the most important reasons for designating the area as wilderness.

Recent court cases seems to be interpreting the "historical value" as in the use of these lands, not in the remnants left behind. And, certainly, the historical use of the area is an important contribution to this unique quality as well - a use that often stretches from the far distant past right up to today, and into the future.

And yet it does not make sense to believe the wilderness character of North McCullough Wilderness would be enhanced by obliterating its petroglyphs, or the wilderness character of Mesa Verde enhanced by removing the cliff houses. In fact, when the Wilderness Act was first introduced in 1956, it contained a list of suggested areas which included the entirety of Mesa Verde National Park except for those portions "required for roads, motor trails, buildings, and necessary accommodations for visitors." Clearly, when originally envisioned, wilderness areas could contain stabilized structures of historical value.

In addition, surely the presence of cultural resources contributes to the outstanding opportunities for primitive recreation. For some visitors, few experiences are more exciting than being in a wild place and coming across the remains of a former life - from an Archaic lithic scatter to a homesteader’s cabin.

There seems to be a symbiotic relationship between cultural resources and wilderness. We've seen, above, how cultural resources can enrich wilderness. On the other hand, wilderness is sometimes the most beneficial land use allocation for protecting cultural resources, because it is there that these resources have been -- and continue to be -- farthest from the ravages of modern technological civilization.

Cultural Resource Laws

These are not the only cultural resource laws -- only the ones that are particularly applicable to managing cultural resources in wilderness.

Regulation & Interagency Policy

These regulations and policies apply to all agencies. The citations listed are far from comprehensive, but are those of particular importance to the intersection of cultural resources and wilderness.

  • 36 CFR 60 and 36 CFR 63, pertaining to the National Register of Historic Places
  • 36 CFR 65, pertaining to National Historic Landmarks
  • 36 CFR 79, pertaining to the curation of collections
  • 36 CFR 800, pertaining to the consultation requirements when actions by Federal agencies may affect a historic property
  • 43 CFR 3 and 43 CFR 7, pertaining mainly to the permitting process as a way to protect cultural resources
  • 43 CFR 10, pertaining to the implementation of NAGPRA

The Standards for the treatment of Historic Properties are "neither technical nor prescriptive, but are intended to promote responsible preservation practices that help protect our Nation's irreplaceable cultural resources." Many of the details of these standards would not apply to historic properties inside wilderness, and they cannot, in and of themselves, be used to decide how to treat a particular property. "But once a treatment is selected, the Standards provide philosophical consistency to the work." The Standards are found in 36 CFR 68 and detailed in the guidelines for preserving, rehabilitating, restoring, and reconstructing historic buildings.

These are of particularly important for managing cultural resources in wilderness.

  • E.O. 13007, pertaining to the access to and use of sacred sites
  • E.O. 13287, pertaining to the use of historic properties for administrative functions
  • Complete list
  • NRB 38, pertaining to evaluating and documenting traditional cultural properties

For Regulatory reference, see 43 CFR 7(a)(1).

Agency Policy


These are not the only BLM resources for cultural resource management, just the ones most pertinent to managing cultural resources in wilderness. Be sure to check with your State Office for additional guidance.


  • 610 FW 2.29, wilderness regulations and policies concerning cultural resources
  • 614 FW 1 General Policy, Responsibilities, and Definitions
  • 614 FW 2 Survey and Identification
  • 614 FW 3 Evaluation and Designation
  • 614 FW 4 Planning, Protection, and Management
  • 614 FW 5 Authorization to Use


Be sure to check with your Regional Office for additional guidance.

FSM 2320

Sections of wilderness manual concerning cultural resources

FSM 2360

Examples (Plans, Analyses, Templates, and Agreements, etc.)