The Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness was established by the Congress within the boundaries of Fire Island National Seashore, New York, in 1980 (fig. 1). Early park management documents cited the Wilderness Act of 1964 and the need to “preserve wilderness character”; however, more than 30 years later, park staff still lacks an effective means to evaluate how well wilderness character is being preserved. Fire Island National Seashore needed a way to monitor and evaluate the effects of visitation, ecological change, and management actions on this small, urban, proximate, dynamic barrier island wilderness.
Figure 1. The Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness is the only federally designated wilderness in New York State and, at 1,380 acres (559 ha), is the smallest wilderness area managed by the National Park Service. The wilderness contains a variety of dynamic barrier island habitats in relatively natural condition within 60 miles of New York City. The northern boundary extends along the Great South Bay at mean high water and is characterized by an extensive salt marsh. The southern boundary is legislatively defined as “the toe of the primary dune,” and is ever changing because of the dynamic nature of the beach-dune system.
An interdisciplinary team at the national seashore used the “Keeping It Wild” conceptual framework to develop indicators and measures to produce a wilderness character monitoring protocol (Landres et al. 2008a). All wilderness areas, regardless of size, location, or any other feature, are unified by the statutory definition of wilderness, and each quality has relevant indicators and quantitative measures that can be used to evaluate wilderness character trends (Wilderness Act). The framework allows flexibility for each agency and individual wilderness areas to monitor the specific measures most representative of their site.