Ecological Intervention and Site Restoration

The Ecological Intervention and Site Restoration toolbox contains material pertaining to large-scale interventions and small-scale site restoration in wilderness. Contact us to suggest new materials for inclusion.


This toolbox contains material pertaining to large-scale interventions and small-scale restoration in wilderness. Ecological interventions cover a broad range of actions that managers take, including what is called ecological restoration. Ecological interventions are actions that management staff implement that are large in scale and scope. These actions may be contentious because although they have the potential to improve the natural quality of wilderness character, they degrade the untrammeled quality of wilderness character. This toolbox contains agency-specific guidance on ecological interventions, as well as a tool for determining if a proposed intervention has addressed all the questions and issues to allow staff to more readily evaluate the proposed action in a Minimum Requirements Analysis.

Material pertaining to site restoration is included under the Management Strategies and Guidelines folder. Small-scale restoration, as used here, refers to site-specific restoration projects such as restoring a campsite or section of trail or road. Under the Management Strategies and Guidelines folder, resources for site restoration are under the small-scale restoration folder and resources for large-scale interventions are under the large-scale intervention folder.

Law and Policy

Section 2.(a) states in part, "...and these shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character..."

Section 2.(c) "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized 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. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value."

The following acts may have direct bearing on the proposed intervention or site restoration and should be reviewed as appropriate.

Each agency has wilderness policy and a variety of other policies that may have direct bearing on the proposed intervention or site restoration. In addition to the policy documents cited below, agency-specific natural resource management policy, cultural resource policy, and other policy and reference guidelines should be reviewed as appropriate.





Management Guidelines and Strategies

This section focuses on whether large-scale ecological interventions should be initiated, and if so, how, and how to conduct small-scale site restoration. The Wilderness Resource Stewardship Model outlines steps to inform identification, inventory, action, monitoring and adaptation.

Large scale interventions are defined as trammeling actions that are above a minimum threshold of scale and scope that are intended to manipulate or control earth and the community of life. For a further discussion on what is, and what is not a trammeling action, see Appendix 6 of Keeping It Wild 2. Resources in the large-scale intervention section include a supplemental MRA tool to support staff reviewing proposals for ecological interventions in wilderness. Additional examples of plans and analyses from large-scale intervention actions are also included.

Small-scale restoration resources include manuals and guides on how to conduct effective vegetation and soil restoration, as well as examples of restoration projects conducted in desert environments.

  • Supplement to Minimum Requirements Analysis/Decision Guide: Evaluating Proposals for Ecological Intervention in Wilderness

    This supplement provides support to agency staff in completing an MRA for proposals for ecological intervention in wilderness, including projects motivated by the preservation of cultural resources. This supplement is needed because ecological intervention in wilderness commonly entails complex legal, scientific, and ethical questions that may be beyond the realm of a typical MRA.
    This supplement would be used early in the proposal evaluation process, prior to the MRA, to ensure that the proposal contains all the information that would be needed to evaluate it. Used in this way, it may also identify issues that need to be clarified or resolved before moving forward with the MRA and other required analyses. Proposals may be in various stages of review and evaluation under different administrative or legal processes, and this supplement may be similarly useful in these situations.

Examples of Plans and Analyses

  • BLM Native Plant Materials Development Process

    A one page document on the steps that facilitate the development of a long-term program to supply and manage native plant materials for restoration and rehabilitation efforts on public lands.
  • BLM Seeds of Success Program
    A one page document on the partnership with the Millennium Seed Bank Project to collect, conserve, and develop native plant materials for restoration.

Wilderness and Backcountry Site Restoration Guide

Description and Citation

Therrell, Lisa; Cole, David; Claassen, Victor; Ryan, Chris; Davies, Mary Ann. 2006. Wilderness and Backcountry Site Restoration Guide. 0623 2815. Missoula, MT: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Missoula Technology and Development Center. 394 p.

This comprehensive guide focuses on restoration of small-scale impact caused by human actions in wilderness and backcountry areas. Techniques discussed in the guide do not rely on motorized tools or mechanized transport, although those options may be mentioned. Examples are drawn primarily from the Western United States. Many of the techniques could be used in other settings. The laws regulating wilderness management and the philosophy guiding it are considered when discussing whether restoration activities are appropriate in areas designated as wilderness. The guide's goals are to:

  • Help practitioners develop plans that thoroughly address the question of whether site restoration is the best management action and, if so, develop a site-specific restoration plan that incorporates ecological concepts and addresses patterns of human use.
  • Provide the latest information on site-specific restoration techniques, including site preparation, soil amendments, planting, mulching, and so forth.
  • Explore the various methods of plant propagation both on and off a restoration site.
  • Provide approaches for project monitoring and documentation.

Desert Restoration

This folder contains guides, environmental assessment examples, monitoring sheets and visual references for conducting small site restoration in a desert setting. Techniques include vertical and horizontal mulching, pitting, ripping, hand barriers, rockwork, bermwork, and texturizing.

SCA Wilderness Restoration Corps Video Clips
  1. Introduction & Preliminary Analysis
  2. Inventory & Monitoring (part 1)
  3. Inventory & Monitoring (part 2)
  4. Techniques
  5. Example
Follow-up Monitoring
Environmental Assessment for Desert Restoration
Paired Photographs

Small Site Restoration Bibliography

This bibliography focuses on specific techniques, strategies, and assessments for small-scale restoration projects.

References and Resources

These presentations were developed by staff at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute for a variety of agency audiences including natural resource and administrative staff. Most include a basic introduction to the dilemma of intervening in wilderness, explaining the tension between the natural and untrammeled qualities of wilderness character.

These case studies were developed by staff at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute to demonstrate the complex process of making wilderness stewardship decisions related to ecological interventions in wilderness. Content for the case studies stems from direct interviews with wilderness staff, as well as NEPA documents and other project documents.