Wilderness Management

Following is a statement on the Wilderness Institute perspective on managing wilderness areas.  (Emphasis in red has been added.)

"What is "wilderness management"?"

"Simply designating a wilderness does not assure its preservation. An understanding of wilderness values is needed to guide all activities in wilderness, including grazing, access to private lands, mining, fish and wildlife, cultural sites, fire, and insects and disease. Management is needed to minimize the impacts of the wilderness visitor on the immediate environment and the experience of other visitors. Wilderness management applies guidelines derived from social and natural sciences to preserve the qualities for which wilderness was established. "

"The long-term values of wilderness to our society and the world will be their naturalness and wildness, and their protection from human influence. A better understanding of these values will help keep human influence to a minimum while still providing opportunities for visitors to enjoy and experience the wilderness. "

Wilderness Society "BLM Action Center"

There are numerous resources on this Wilderness Society website available for the purposes of “helping you effectively engage and participate in the processes used by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to determine how your wild lands are managed.”  Selected excerpts below.  (Emphasis in red has been added.)

From “A Conservationist’s Guide to BLM Planning and Decision Making”

For the Wilderness Society – and others who monitor the agency’s actions – the BLM has failed on many counts in its stewardship duties.  And it is likely to continue down this same path unless citizens mobilize their significant power as individuals and join together in effective coalitions to enforce the conservation-oriented obligations mandated by law.

Bringing about such a seminal change requires a commitment of time, energy and financial resources.  It requires dedication to finding a way through the complicated and arcane mazes of the BLM planning and decision-making processes.

The BLM manages the public lands under the general philosophy of multiple use and sustained yield (Chapter IV.B).  Multiple use and sustained yield have long been maligned and, in general, misinterpreted and misapplied by interests hostile to conservation.  However, multiple use and sustained yield are grounded in conservationUnder these principles, the BLM is directed to optimize the public good, giving equal footing to conservation, recreation, and commercial values.

Visitor Use Management in Wilderness
SOURCE: www.wilderness.net/toolboxes/documents/vum/Indirect and Direct Methods.doc

According to the Wilderness Institute website, “The purpose of this Visitor Use Management Toolbox is to provide wilderness managers and others interested in stewardship of the National Wilderness Preservation System with information, guidelines, examples, and other resources about visitor use management in wilderness.”.  The excerpts below are from the document titled “Indirect and Direct Methods for Visitor Use Management”.  (Emphasis in red has been added.)

"INDIRECT – Emphasis on influencing or modifying use and/or behavior.  Individual retains freedom to choose.  Control less complete, more variation in use possible "

1. Physical design and alternations

-   Improve, maintain, or neglect access roads.

-   Improve, maintain, or neglect campsites.

-   Make trails more or less difficult.

-   Build trails or leave areas trail-less.

-   Improve fish or wildlife populations or take no actions (stock, allow depletion, or elimination)

2. Information and Education

-   Information to redistribute use.

-   Advertise recreation opportunities in surrounding areas, outside wilderness.

-   Leave No Trace education programs.

-   Advertise underused areas and patterns of use.

3. Entry and eligibility requirements

-   Charge constant visitor fee

-   Charge different fees by trail zones, season, and entry points.

-   Require proof of wilderness knowledge and/or skills (or group permits).

"DIRECT – Emphasis on regulation of behavior.  Individual choice restricted.  High in degree of control."

1. Increased enforcement

-   Impose fines.

-   Increase surveillance of area (wilderness ranger presence).

2. Zoning

-   Separate incompatible uses (hiker only zones, areas with stock use).

-   Prohibit use at times of high damage potential (ex. No stock use in high meadows until dry, approx. July 1).

-   Limit camping with setbacks from water or other features.

3. Rationing Use

-   Rotate use (open or close access points, trails, campsites).

-   Require reservations.

-   Assign campsites and/or travel routes to each camper group.

-   Limit usage via access points.

-   Group or party size limits.

-   Limit camping to designated campsites only.

-   Limit length of stay in area (max./min.).

4. Restrictions on activities.

-   Prohibit certain types of use.

-   Restrict building campfires.

-   Restrict certain recreation activities.

Wilderness Recreation Strategy

This is another Wilderness Institute toolbox item outlining "Recreation Strategy".  Below are selected quotes from the document.  (Emphasis in red has been added.)

Wilderness Recreation Strategy

Problem Statement

The Forest Service has evolved a long-standing wilderness management paradigm that opportunities for solitude are mandated by the 1964 Wilderness Act, and that every wilderness visitor can expect to be able to experience solitude, even in the most spectacular and easily reached parts of a wilderness.  This desire to provide outstanding opportunities for solitude on every acre of every wilderness is reflected in the social standards developed for most wilderness areas in forest plans.  The need to comply with these social standards is driving proposals to limit recreational access to high use destinations.  Two primary problems have been identified: 1) Much of the public is critical of use limits based on social standards alone, in high use destination areas, and 2) When use limits are implemented in high use areas, visitors are displaced to the more pristine and sensitive areas that have received very low use in the past.


Many, if not most, high use portions of wilderness are out of compliance with the social and biophysical standards in forest plans, and have been since implementation of the plans.  The degree to which the social standards have been exceeded is of particular concern.

There has been a general lack of public support for limiting use in order to bring high use areas into compliance with social standards.  This lack of support is due, in part, to the drastic use reductions that have been proposed, in some cases reductions of up to 50-75 percent of current use levels.  Another factor may be that people visiting these high use areas are tolerant of seeing many other visitors.  They will accept less than their ideal for wilderness, rather than be told they can’t go to the areas at all.

Slade Gorton, Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, added committee report language to the FY 1998 Interior Appropriations Bill stating the committee’s concern over the Forest Service’s “attempt to control the concept of solitude in wilderness within our National Forests.”  The committee expressed concerns that social standards are “subjective and artificially set numbers of allowable encounters per day between human beings.”

Added to public and congressional reactions are research findings by FS wilderness research scientists, David Cole and Alan Watson of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, which conclude that the benefits from reducing use to protect solitude at high use areas may not justify the costs in terms of denying people access to the wilderness that they love.  For example, in some high use destinations, a 70% cut in use (affecting literally thousands of people a season) would result in encountering another group every 6 minutes instead of every 3 minutes.  Managers are hard pressed to conclude that this gain is worth the cost. 

Within the FS, experienced and respected wilderness managers and line officers have voiced heart-felt reservations about social standards that seem to put the agency in the position of determines, for visitors, when they have had a quality wilderness experience.  In addition, there have been unanticipated adverse affects to pristine wilderness from some management actions.  For example, in some places that have implemented use limits or other restrictions, displacement of visitors from high use areas to lightly used areas has occurred, either within the same wilderness or to other wilderness areas that were not experiencing high use. 

Proposed Action #1. Create and/or market opportunities for high quality wildland recreation experiences outside wilderness on and off National Forest lands. 

Note: If the purpose of wilderness is for people to enjoy, why do managers feel the need to market recreational opportunities OUTSIDE wilderness areas and push the public out of the wilderness???

Proposed Action #2. Make it a priority to commit enough resources and protection to low use wilderness lands to ensure nondegradation of their outstanding opportunities for solitude and near pristine conditions.

Proposed Action #3.  In high use areas, develop and implement social standards with public input, and implement management actions to ensure that impacts to physical and biological resources are contained within standards established in the forest plan.

There are numerous other documents on the Wilderness Institute website under the Toolbox section which outline issues related to the management of wilderness areas.

Managing Recreation Use

This is a 63 page document titled Wilderness Recreation Use: Common Problems and Potential Solutions from the United States Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.  (Emphasis in red has been added.)

"This report summarizes information on alternative management tactics available for dealing with common "

"...wilderness recreation problems. The first section of the report describes eight basic strategies for attacking problems: reduce use of the entire wilderness, reduce use of problem areas, modify the location of use within problem areas, modify the timing of use, modify type of use and visitor behavior, modify visitor expectations, increase the resistance of the resource, and maintain or rehabilitate the resource."

"The second section describes the nature of general problems resulting from recreational use of wilderness. In order of frequency, the most common problems are trail deterioration, campsite deterioration, litter, crowding, packstock impact, human waste disposal, impacts on wildlife, user conflicts, and water pollution.