Keep it wild: Asking the right questions to guide wilderness management
Research Every year, federal wilderness management agencies receive hundreds of proposals for ecological restoration actions in U.S. wilderness areas. Beth Hahn, an ecologist at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, says restoration needs are driven by a host of landscape stressors, including recreational use, invasive species and climate change. However, Hahn says, existing laws and policies seldom provide clear support for decision-making, and wilderness managers often must consider varying and sometimes conflicting beliefs about wilderness value. In response to requests to help navigate the complexity of wilderness management, Landres and Hahn worked with Leopold Institute staff, university faculty and wilderness agency staff to develop a questionnaire that they call a wilderness evaluation framework. The wilderness evaluation framework, can improve communication and collaboration between multiple agencies and stakeholders while helping wilderness managers create a “minimum requirements analysis,” which is legally required whenever a proposed management action involves a prohibited use, as defined by Wilderness Act section 4(c). As part of their work in developing the Toolbox and the wilderness evaluation framework, they’ve helped to raise awareness of wilderness management as a worthy goal, even when there doesn’t seem to be a good solution. Key FindingsAlthough the Wilderness Act of 1964 emphasizes management restraint as a statutory goal, intervention actions have been widely implemented across the National Wilderness Preservation System.Ecological interventions, including ecological restoration actions, are increasingly used to mitigate the impacts while meeting conservation goals in protected areas.A wilderness evaluation framework questionnaire, recently developed by a team led by Leopold Institute ecologists, can help wilderness managers to evaluate restoration needs in light of the management restraint mandated by the Wilderness Act of 1964.Wilderness managers who use the wilderness evaluation framework may be better equipped to communicate and collaborate with other State and Federal agencies as well as with wilderness stakeholders.