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Volume 28
Number 3
Winter 2011-2012
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Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park, Colorado. Case Study
Lessons learned: Merging process elements to address wilderness character and user capacity
By Ryan Sharp, Kerri Cahill, and Julie Sharp
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
Frameworks for wilderness character and user capacity assessments
Lessons learned
About the authors
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Wilderness character monitoring seeks to answer the question, “How is wilderness character changing over time?” Similar but slightly different, user capacity approaches in wilderness evaluate “at what point … visitor use [is] causing undesirable impacts to wilderness resources and visitor experiences.” There is a nexus between these questions as they relate to wilderness management. This article examines the similarities in approaches to addressing wilderness character and user capacity, and more specifically lessons learned from the respective processes in three planning examples.

Both the 1964 Wilderness Act and 2006 National Park Service (NPS) Management Policies require natural and cultural resource condition monitoring and long-term trend identification in wilderness character. This monitoring is based on the four wilderness qualities: untrammeled, natural, undeveloped, and opportunities for solitude or primitive and unconfined recreation. The interagency “Keeping It Wild” framework (Landres et al. 2008) was developed to monitor wilderness character, but there has been limited application within the Park Service to date. One of the primary reasons for this is the need to develop specific guidance on implementing the framework and integrating it into agency planning efforts. As part of 2010 initiatives to develop guidance for field application, NPS staff found an opportunity to merge elements of the “Keeping It Wild” framework with the framework to address user capacity. Although these frameworks use slightly different terminology, the end goals are largely the same: to provide a process that guides planning and management to preserve resources while also protecting the visitor experience. In three examples, some elements and methods to address wilderness character and user capacity were merged, resulting in lessons for guiding future wilderness stewardship planning and management.

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This page updated:  6 February 2012

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From the Guest Editor(s)
A Wilderness Celebration
At Your Service
Masthead Information
Special Issue: Wilderness Stewardship and Science
A conversation with NPS Director Jonathan B. Jarvis
Using wilderness character to improve wilderness stewardship
Using the “Keeping It Wild” framework to develop a wilderness character monitoring protocol for the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness
  Lessons learned: Merging process elements to address wilderness character and user capacity
A database application for wilderness character monitoring
Fires in wilderness in the national parks
Transboundary cooperation to achieve wilderness protection and large landscape conservation
Integrating cultural resources and wilderness character
Climate change: Wilderness’s greatest challenge
Climate change threatens wilderness integrity
The science of trail surveys
Wilderness visitor experiences
Scientific study and enduring wilderness
The hidden consequences of fire suppression
Using acoustical data to manage for solitude in wilderness areas
Creating exploratory maps for wilderness impact surveys: Applications in campsite searches
Spiritual outcomes of wilderness experience
Remote sensing of heritage resources for research and management
Managing overnight stock use at Yosemite National Park
Economic impacts of search-and-rescue operations on wilderness management in the national parks
Through the looking glass: What value will we see in wilderness in 2064?
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