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What is wilderness?

The word "wilderness" represents this social condition, one in which an area is untrammeled and free from human control, regardless of preexisting conditions or future consequences. Historic fire suppression, livestock grazing, exotic species introduction and global climate change all affect the ecological character and function of wilderness.

In the face of these changes, the primary dilemma is how to simultaneously manage lands to be both natural and wild. For managers and wilderness advocates the challenges within this wilderness restoration dilemma revolve around agreeing on target conditions and deciding when to take action.

Commonly understood policies of wilderness management:

  • No roads or timber harvest (with rare exceptions).
  • No motorized use except for emergencies or when necessary for purposes of administering wilderness.
  • No mechanized transport, such as mountain bikes, game carts, etc.
  • Area is managed for primitive and unconfined recreation with outstanding opportunities for solitude.
  • Area is managed for the free play of natural processes. 
  • Naturally occurring fire is allowed, as much as possible, to play its natural role.
  • Complex congressional guidelines provide for existing levels of grazing and necessary range improvements. However, grazing cannot be increased following wilderness designation.

Did you know?

Simply designating a wilderness does not assure its preservation. Management is needed to minimize the impacts of the wilderness visitor on the immediate environment and the experiences of other visitors. Wilderness management employs both social and natural sciences to preserve the qualities for which wilderness was established.

Though there are other sources of impact, management of the wilderness is now driven largely by recreation impacts:

  • Loss of and changes to native vegetation
  • Unsustainable use of firewood
  • Damage to live and dead standing trees
  • Changes in soil
  • Diminished water quality
  • Building illegal improvements
  • Exposed human waste and litter
  • Loss of perceived solitude and/or wildness
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