In 1964, the Wilderness Act (P.L. 88-577) established the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS), currently composed of nearly 39 million hectares in 564 separate units, ranging in size from 2.4 he&ares to 3.5 million hectares. The purpose of the NWPS is “. . . to secure for the American people of present and future generations the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.” The Act further states [Sec.2.(a)] that these areas:
. . . shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness, and so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and for the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness . . .
What are these benefits that the American people derive? Will wilderness managers know if and when the “enduring resource of wilderness” is no longer providing these benefits’? One way to answer these questions is through a broad-based monitoring program that addresses experiential, social, and ecological issues.