Wilderness Character

The Wilderness Character toolbox is a ‘work in progress’ and represents information available to date on this subject. Toolboxes are comprehensively reviewed and updated approximately every three years, with intermittent small updates and additions in the interim. To suggest new materials for inclusion, email Lisa Ronald at lisa@wilderness.net. Date of last update: 12/13/2018.

Introduction

Overview

This toolbox provides information for wilderness managers about wilderness character. It provides the laws and agency policies concerning wilderness character, defines it, discusses how it is being used in wilderness stewardship, and how it is being monitored and mapped.

What is Wilderness Character?

This definition is from the Keeping It Wild 2 document. While wilderness character is not explicitly defined in the 1964 Wilderness Act, Keeping It Wild 2 builds on the lessons learned from 15 years of experience developing and implementing wilderness character monitoring and frames this monitoring strategy around the following definition of wilderness character. "Wilderness character is a holistic concept based on the interaction of (1) biophysical environments primarily free from modern human manipulation and impact, (2) personal experiences in natural environments generally free from the encumbrances and signs of modern society, and (3) symbolic meanings of humility, restraint, and interdependence that inspire human connection with nature. Taken together, these tangible and intangible values define wilderness character and distinguish wilderness from other all lands."

The Wilderness Act

The Wilderness Act requires the agencies that administer wilderness to preserve the wilderness character of the area. In other words, preserving wilderness character is a legal requirement. The Statement of Policy in Section 2(a) describes the overall goals for establishing wilderness, and this Section clearly states that the administering agencies shall preserve wilderness character. In Section 4(b) on the use of wilderness areas, we again see this clear statement. Congress clearly intended a variety of uses in wilderness ("recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use") and in allowing these uses, the agencies must also preserve the wilderness character of the area. Legal scholars point to this Section 4(b) statement as THE primary management mandate in the Wilderness Act, and Congress has reaffirmed that this is the central mandate to the agencies that administer wilderness.

Policy and Guidelines

Interagency Guidance

Monitoring Changes in Wilderness Character Presentation

This presentation describes what wilderness character is; why it is important to monitor; and what indicators to use in tracking changes.

  • Narrated PowerPoint Presentation (66.2 MB)
    This narrated Power Point (.pptx) file is about 44 minutes long and, depending on the speed of your Internet connection, may take a while to download.
  • Presentation Transcript (4.22 MB)
    This is the same version as the narrated presentation, only it does not have sound and instead has the transcription in the notes section of each slide.

Mapping Wilderness Character

The technical guidelines document provides the methodology and technical processes for developing a wilderness character map.

The following documents are to be used in support of a wilderness character project.

  • Overview of Mapping Wilderness Character
    A general presentation describing the approach to mapping wilderness character.
  • Measures Datasources
    A list of commonly used measures and data sources collated from previous projects.
  • Measures BLANK
    A blank spreadsheet used for selecting measures to include in the wilderness character map.
  • Strategic Questions
    A set of strategic questions (with potential answers) for driving the entire process of building a wilderness character map.
  • WCM Database
    A hierarchical folder system for storing measure datasets.
  • Rasterize/Normalize Tool
    A customized ArcGIS tool for converting vectors to rasters and normalizing values.
  • WCM Report Template
    A generic template that can be used by any wilderness-managing agency to generate a site-specific wilderness character mapping report.
  • Report Flowchart
    An editable version of the flow chart found in the report template.

Wilderness Fellows

Wilderness Fellows are boots-on-the-ground and brains-in-the-cube people to help wilderness managers develop a baseline assessment of wilderness character and accomplish many other tasks that are the building blocks of wilderness stewardship. The agency-specific links below provide detail about the Wilderness Fellows program in each agency.

The Wilderness Fellows program began in 2010 when the National Park Service hired six recent post-undergraduate and graduate-level students to live with staff at wilderness parks, focus on wilderness stewardship tasks, and get a lot of work done. The Fish and Wildlife Service continued this program, hiring 10 Wilderness Fellows in 2011, and in 2012 a truly Interagency Wilderness Fellows program was initiated with eight Fish and Wildlife Service Fellows, four National Park Service Fellows, and two Forest Service Fellows. Wilderness Fellows are not merely interns and they are not volunteers; Wilderness Fellows are highly motivated, the top of their class, and passionately interested in Federal land management and conservation. Wilderness Fellows build capacity for wilderness stewardship and are the future leaders within the Federal land management agencies.

 

The 1964 Wilderness Act, all subsequent federal wilderness legislation, and the policies of the four federal agencies (BLM, FS, FWS, and NPS) administering this land mandate preserving the "wilderness character" of these lands. Wilderness Fellows work closely with local staff to create a baseline assessment of wilderness character using the Keeping It Wild definitions and protocols developed and published by an interagency team in 2008. Wilderness Fellows actively participate in identifying measures, gathering data, and entering these data into a newly developed interagency wilderness character monitoring database. In the National Park Service, Wilderness Fellows also create a wilderness character narrative, gather legislative information on the wilderness, and help identify future challenges facing the wilderness. All Wilderness Fellows assist management staff in a variety of different ways to help further wilderness stewardship.

 

Wilderness Fellows are hired for three or six months through a partnership agreement between the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute and American Conservation Experience. Wilderness Fellows receive a stipend of $500 per week, on-site housing, and may also qualify for an AmeriCorp Education Award. A three-day training is provided on wilderness, wilderness character, wilderness character monitoring, the agencies, and practical advice on working with management staff. Additional site-specific and agency-specific training is provided by the host, as needed, when the Wilderness Fellow arrives at the site. Travel is provided to the training and to the work site. The average cost-to-government for stipend and travel is approximately $12,000 for a three-month Wilderness Fellow, and approximately $21,000 for a six-month Wilderness Fellow.

 

Training Materials

This webinar series is delivered by the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, and University of Montana Wilderness Institute.

Session 1: The Foundation and Qualities of Wilderness Character

This webinar was held on Wednesday, January 25, 2012 at 11:00 AM, Mountain Time. The 90-minute session featured Peter Landres, research ecologist with the Leopold Institute, and defined wilderness character and explored each of its five qualities. Peter also explained the importance of wilderness character and its application to wilderness stewardship.

Session 2: Making Decisions: Evaluating Impacts and Tradeoffs to Wilderness Character

This webinar was held on Wednesday, March 14, 2012 at 11:00 AM, Mountain Time. The 90-minute session featured Peter Landres, research ecologist with the Leopold Institute, evaluating the tradeoffs of effects to the different qualitites of wilderness character as a result of management action. Karen Lindsey presented a case study to illustrate these concepts on Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout reintroduction.

Session 3: Integrating Wilderness Character with Land Management Planning Efforts

This webinar was held on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 at 11:00 AM, Mountain Time. The 90-minute session featured Peter Landres, Ecologist at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute; Linda Merigliano, Wilderness Program Manager on the Bridger-Teton National Forest; and Charlie Callagan, Wilderness Coordinator at Death Valley National Park. The webinar focused on how wilderness character should be integrated into agency planning efforts that have the potential to affect wilderness character.

Session 4: Wilderness Character Monitoring

This webinar was held on Wednesday, July 18, 2012 at 11:00 AM, Mountain Time. The 90-minute session featured five presenters. Peter Landres, research ecologist with the Leopold Institute, gave an overview of the "Keeping is Wild" strategy. The following four presenters described the status of wilderness character monitoring within their agencies: Chris Barns, Bureau of Land Management Representative to the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center; Nancy Roeper, Fish and Wildlife Service National Wilderness Coordinator; Steve Boutcher, Forest Service Wilderness & Wild and Scenic Rivers Information Manager; Chris Holbeck, National Park Service Midwest Region Wilderness Coordinator.

This webinar series is delivered by the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, and University of Montana Wilderness Institute.

Session 1

This webinar was held on Wednesday, January 30, 2013 at 10:30am, Mountain Time. The 90-minute session featured Chris Barns, Bureau of Land Management Representative to the Carhart Center, and Sandee Dingman, a biologist with the National Park Service. The speakers briefly discussed what the 5th quality, Other Features of Value, is and how it relates to the other four qualities of wilderness character. They then explored what fits within this quality i.e. ecological, geological or other features of scientific, educational, or scenic value that are unique to a particular wilderness area.

  • <ahref="https://www.wilderness.net/toolboxes/documents/WC/5th%20Quality%20Webinar,%201.30.13.wmv" target="_blank" rel="noopener">Recording (windows media video, 22.1 MB)
    Please note: Some slides in Chris Barns' presentation in do not appear correctly in the recording. To get the most out of the presentation, please download the PowerPoint file associated with the webinar and advance through the slides as you listen to the recording. You should be able to match the slides to the audio recording.
  • PowerPoint (Chris Barns)
  • PowerPoint (Sandee Dingman)

Session 2

This webinar was held on Wednesday, March 6, 2013 at 10:30am, Mountain Time. The 90-minute session featured Chris Barns, Bureau of Land Management Representative to the Carhart Center, and Pei-Lin Yu, Cultural Resource Specialist with the National Park Service, Intermountain Region, stationed at the Rocky Mountains CESU. The speakers focused on cultural resources as a component of the 5th quality, Other Features of Value, and discussed how to determine when and what cultural resources should be included within this 5th quality and what may enhance or degrade this component.

Resources and References

Publications and Other Materials

  • Applying the Concept of Wilderness Character to Wilderness Planning, Monitoring, and Management
    This publication shows planners, wilderness and resource staff, and project leaders how the concept of wilderness character could be directly applied at the local level to develop management plans, fulfill NEPA compliance, develop monitoring, and be used in several other wilderness management tasks. A fully developed hypothetical example of a Decision Memo is provided. Although the title states that it is written for National Forests, the publication is written generally and would directly apply to all four wilderness managing agencies.
  • Carver, S., Tricker J. and Landres, P. 2013. Keeping it wild: Mapping wilderness character in the United States. Journal of Environmental Management, 131, 239-255.