Wilderness Character

The Wilderness Character toolbox is a ‘work in progress’ and represents information available to date on this subject. To suggest new materials for inclusion, email Lisa Ronald at lisa@wilderness.net.



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.

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.

Policy and Guidelines

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.

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.