Wilderness Stewardship Planning

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


Planning Overview

Wilderness planning translates the Wilderness Act, enabling legislation, and agency policy, in the context of the issues and situations for a given wilderness, into direction for the wilderness area. A wilderness stewardship plan guides the preservation, management, and use of the wilderness to ensure that wilderness character is preserved and is unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness.

In sections 4(b) and 2(a) of the Wilderness Act, the agencies are directed to administer for the protection of each area and preserve their wilderness character. To do this you must have a well thought out plan. You need to develop a wilderness planning document using a logical process for identifying, implementing and monitoring appropriate management actions in wilderness.

Specific policies and guidance vary between the four wilderness management agencies, be sure to follow them; however, all require some common elements, as all are written with the purpose of preserving wilderness character. Plans form the basis for informed decisions and are the building block for budget and staffing proposals.

There are many planning processes to help you develop a plan. The key is to pick the one that works best for your situation and stick to it. A good planning process will result in a good wilderness plan. Examples of planning processes are included in this toolbox, such as Limits of Acceptable Change (LAC), Visitor Experience and Resource Protection (VERP) and the Wilderness Stewardship Planning Framework (WSPF).

There are several names used for these planning documents. You will hear them referred to as a Wilderness Management Plan, Wilderness Stewardship Plan, Backcountry/ Wilderness Management Plan and Wilderness Strategy to name a few. Don't be confused, they are all referring to the same type of document.

Planning should be transparent and involve everyone; an interdisciplinary team, management, staff, stakeholders and the general public. This gets people talking about Wilderness and builds ownership when it comes time to implement the plan. Plans identify direction for administrative actions as well as public use. Plans establish management direction and actions to best preserve and protect the wilderness resource while at the same time providing opportunities for wilderness experiences.

Plans should address all components of wilderness in an integrated fashion. Wilderness is a composite resource including ---air, water, wildlife, fish, cultural sites, soil, vegetation, people...we need to tie these together into one Wilderness in order to manage wilderness as a whole.

This toolbox provides agency policy, guidance, examples of processes and plans, and identifies training opportunities.

Why Plan?

Many ask why we need a wilderness stewardship plan. There are many reasons. Overall, it gives the agency the opportunity to look to the future and identify the vision, goals, and objectives for each wilderness area.

A plan identifies a complex of issues and helps set reasonable, lawful, practical and implementable actions. It provides guidance for managers and staff on the ground with response to issues that are adequate and appropriate to meet goals and objectives for both day to day and long-term stewardship.

It sets forth the accountability, consistency and continuity for the long-term stewardship of each wilderness area and assures everyone on the same page. Issues don't go away by ignoring them, a plan provides the framework for response. A plan also helps to set standards rather than waiting until something happens, when it may be too late to easily respond. A plan avoids "management by the seat of your pants" or "putting out the wildfires." Wilderness stewardship plans provide a link to other overall planning efforts such as General Management Plans, Comprehensive Conservation Plans, Forest Plans, Resource Management Plans, and can serve as an umbrella for more specific plans such as Fire Management, Commercial Services, Emergency Operations etc.

A plan defines our needs, identifies components of our wilderness stewardship program and sets the course of action in preserving wilderness character over the long run. It outlines what our resources are, what the desired conditions are, what to watch for to notice changes and plots a course if action is determined necessary.

The planning process raises the awareness of wilderness stewardship among the public, asks for their input, and elicits ownership once the plan is in place. It can build common vision so that everyone works as a team on common ground for the same purpose.

The bottom line is to provide for the use and enjoyment of wilderness in a manner that preserves wilderness character for present and future generations. A wilderness stewardship plan is the guide to achieve that end.

Examples of Wilderness Plans and Supporting Documents


Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness Plan - 2000

Mt. Rogers Wilderness LAC - 2004

Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness

High Uintas Wilderness Monitoring Plan

Resource Materials, Training, and References

Resource Materials



Training Courses

Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center

University of Montana Wilderness Management Distance Education Program (WMDEP)


  • Dawson, C. P. & Hendee, J. C. (2009). Wilderness Management: Stewardship and Protection of Resources and Values (4rd ed.). Golden, CO: Fulcrum Publishing.