One of the central mandates of the 1964 Wilderness Act is that “each agency administering any area designated as wilderness shall be responsible for preserving the wilderness character of the area.” Although wilderness comprises about 20 percent of National Forest System lands (over 35 million acres), the agency lacks a way to evaluate progress in fulfilling this mandate. This document, developed by the Forest Service Wilderness Monitoring Committee, lays the conceptual foundation for a national assessment of how wilderness character is changing over time. The purpose of this monitoring is to provide managers a tool they can use to answer key questions about wilderness character and wilderness stewardship:
• What is the current state of wilderness character?
• How is wilderness character changing over time?
• How are stewardship actions affecting wilderness character?
• What stewardship priorities and decisions would best preserve wilderness character?
This monitoring uses the Section 2(c) Definition of Wilderness from the 1964 Wilderness Act to identify four statutory qualities of wilderness, from which specific monitoring questions and key monitoring indicators are derived. The status and trends of these national indicators are monitored, allowing managers to evaluate how selected conditions and stewardship actions related to wilderness character are changing over time within a wilderness. This Framework provides the conceptual basis for combining this information into a single integrated assessment of wilderness character within an individual wilderness, and whether it is degrading, stable, or improving over time. This information is compiled for upward reporting, allowing regional and national program managers to evaluate how wilderness character is changing and the effectiveness of wilderness programs and policies to preserve wilderness character. No national standards are developed or comparisons made among wildernesses in terms of their wilderness character because each wilderness is unique in its legislative, administrative, social, and biophysical setting. While this monitoring will provide vital information, it is only a portion of what could, and should, be monitored in wilderness and of wilderness character.