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Volume 28
Number 3
Winter 2011-2012
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Wildlife biologists observe harbor seals from a distance in designated wilderness on the Alaska coast. Science Feature
Scientific study and enduring wilderness

By Kevin Hood
Published: 4 Sep 2015 (online)  •  14 Sep 2015 (in print)
1. The purpose of the Wilderness Act and the mandate to preserve wilderness character

2. The role of scientific study in wilderness
3. The restrictive allowance for exceptions
Acknowledgments and references
About the author
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"We must not only protect the wilderness from commercial exploitation. We must also see that we do not ourselves destroy its wilderness character in our own management programs. We must remember always that the essential quality of the wilderness is its wildness."

—Howard Zahniser (1953), principal author and champion of the 1964 Wilderness Act, U.S. Public Law 88-577

Howard Zahniser cautioned that we must not only protect wilderness but also guard against our own manipulative tendencies in administering these wild areas. Even scientific studies that advance our understanding of nature can compromise the integrity of wilderness (fig. 1). For example:

• A nationwide vegetation survey sought to grid the landscape with monument clusters consisting of stakes, nails, metal flashing, and rods and to access remote plots by helicopter (USDA Forest Service 2006).

• Wildlife researchers corralled molting Canada geese in net pens using aircraft, boats, and kayaks, anesthetized the birds, obtained blood and feather samples, and surgically implanted radio transmitters inside the abdomens of some (Hupp et al. 2010).

• A state agency tranquilized brown bears, extracted tooth and hair samples, and installed temporary radio collars and permanent ear tags (USDA Forest Service 2011).

These studies would expand knowledge of flora, fauna, and natural systems. They would be conducted by professionals with strong connections to their subject matter. Yet each was to occur in wilderness, where monumentation, installations, helicopters, and manipulation of wildlife are normally prohibited by the Wilderness Act.

Wilderness managers and scientists need to find a common approach whereby scientific activities adhere to Wilderness Act standards (fig. 2 ) (Six et al. 2000; Bayless 1999; Eichelberger and Sattler 1994). Commendable efforts have been made toward this goal, notably, A Framework to Evaluate Proposals for Scientific Activities in Wilderness (Landres et al. 2010) and Wilderness Research in Alaska’s National Parks (National Park Service n.d.). This article examines three fundamental aspects of the Wilderness Act whereby increased understanding may help wilderness managers and scientists improve collaboration.

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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
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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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