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Volume 28
Number 3
Winter 2011-2012
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Landscape in southern Death Valley National Park, California. State of Science
Using wilderness character to improve wilderness stewardship

By Peter Landres, Wade M. Vagias, and Suzy Stutzman
Published: 15 Jan 2014 (online)  •  30 Jan 2014 (in print)
Pages
 
Abstract
  Introduction
Defining wilderness character
Using wilderness character improves communication and decision making
Using wilderness character improves planning, management, and monitoring
Conclusions
Acknowledgments and literature cited
About the authors
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Introduction
Landscape in southern Death Valley National Park, California.

NPS/Peter Landres

The qualities of wilderness character are evident in this desert landscape and clouds lit by the setting sun in southern Death Valley Wilderness. This detailed photograph by Peter Landres—a composite of 39 individual images stitched together—tied for third place in the recent Park Science wilderness photo content.

The 1964 Wilderness Act (Public Law 88-577) established the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) “for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character” (Section 2a). In congressional testimony clarifying the intent of wilderness designation, Zahniser (1962) said, “The purpose of the Wilderness Act is to preserve the wilderness character of the areas to be included in the wilderness system, not to establish any particular use.” Congress (United States Congress 1983) and legal scholars (Rohlf and Honnold 1988; McCloskey 1999) subsequently confirmed that preserving wilderness character is the act’s primary legal mandate. Further, the policies of all four agencies that manage wilderness state that they are to preserve wilderness character in all areas designated as wilderness.

Despite a clear legal mandate and agency policies, in the 47 years since passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, there has been no legal definition of wilderness character (Scott 2002) and no National Park Service guidelines or direction to assess how management affects wilderness character or to measure its loss or preservation. Compounding this lack of definition and management guidelines, the complexity of wilderness and the values and meanings associated with it have at times led to a lack of understanding about wilderness and its stewardship, miscommunication among agency staff, and miscommunication between agencies and the public.

Despite a clear legal mandate and agency policies, in the 47 years since passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act, there has been no legal definition of wilderness character … and no National Park Service guidelines or direction to assess how management affects wilderness character or to measure its loss or preservation.

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This page updated:  6 February 2012
URL: http://www.nature.nps.gov/ParkScience/index.cfm?ArticleID=540&Page=1



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