Congressionally designated wilderness areas benefit from the highest level of protection of lands in the United States. As wilderness, land remains in its “natural” condition and is administered for the use and enjoyment of society in such a way that leaves it unimpaired for future generations (Wilderness Act 1964, section 2a). Though wilderness is protected from substantial development by humans, it is used for the primary purpose of “unconfined recreation” (Wilderness Act 1964). Unconfined recreation has led to a proliferation of ecological and social impacts from camping that have necessitated inventory, monitoring, and analysis efforts to understand and manage camping-related impacts (Cole 1993, 2004). Managing campsite impacts has both an ecological and a social significance. A review by Cole (2004) suggests that trampling associated with camping activities can affect soils and vegetation, damage or kill plants, compact mineral soils, and effectively displace organic soil horizons. Social impact studies have indicated that the presence of campsites in areas considered pristine (wilderness areas) can result in a “soiled” or “used” feel to an area (Leung and Marion 1999). Even camping-related impacts that are ecologically inconsequential, such as small pieces of litter, campfire rings, and small tree scars, can invoke negative symbolic meaning in the minds of wilderness visitors (Farrell et al. 2001).
Recognition of the ecological and social consequences related to campsite impacts has resulted in intensified inventory and monitoring efforts throughout the National Wilderness Preservation System (Cole 1993, 2004). While past inventories focused primarily on highly used areas, 21st-century management practices have trended toward inventory of entire wilderness areas (Cole 2004). The expansive area of potential wilderness camping makes it a challenge to travel efficiently to and locate campsites during the inventory process. Efficiency is increased when managers know beforehand where to target resources. Spatial models are a useful tool for resource managers, as they provide a cost-effective means to determine probability across large landscapes. Models are increasingly being used for early detection and to assess risk, develop management strategies, set priorities, and formulate policy (Lawson and Manning 2002; Van Wagtendonk 2003; Manning 2007). By integrating data and expertise with geographic information systems (GIS), models are used to map and predict probable campsite distributions.
This study examines two modeling approaches: (1) the Recreation Habitat Suitability Index (RHSI), an expert-based approach that uses a priori knowledge about campsite preferences, and (2) the Maximum Entropy model (Maxent), a statistics-based model that uses occurrence locations to predict conducive environmental conditions. Both models are relatively easy to employ and offer managers an applied planning tool to estimate the location of camping-related wilderness impacts. The tools presented in this study can be adapted to address a range of issues under a manager’s purview, including invasive species management, solitude studies, and sensitive species monitoring efforts.