Criteria for Ecological Wilderness

This outline summarizes the draft guidelines for Wilderness Area Identification and Selection, Design, and Prioritization developed by The Rewilding Institute’s EcoWild Working Group. Comments are welcome. To generally endorse these guidelines and this approach, Contact Us. These guidelines will continue to be revised. Further details are forthcoming. Some Rewilding Institute Fellows are available to give conservation groups presentations on these guidelines.

This outline includes the historic criteria used by federal wilderness-managing agencies (particularly the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management) and by conservation groups for comparison with the ecological criteria.

IDENTIFICATION of lands for wilderness study, and SELECTION of particular wilderness study areas for proposal as designated wilderness areas.

Traditional Criteria by Agencies and Conservationists:

  • Roadless
  • Over 5,000 acres
  • Federal lands
  • Offer outstanding opportunities for primitive recreation and travel
  • Offer solitude for the visitor
  • Scenic in the classic “Crown Jewel” model
  • Habitat for big game and sport fish
  • Resource conflicts absent or limited, seen as “reasonable”
  • Exclude “redundant” areas

Ecological Criteria:

Roadlessness is good, but not essential (nor is it required by the Wilderness Act)

  • roads should be measured within cultural and economic context
  • roads are “puncture wounds” that should be closed to heal
  • roadlessness nurtures more hot spots of biodiversity
  • lightly roaded areas can be used to link Wilderness Areas

Areas of less than 5,000 acres qualify as Wilderness, but bigger is always better scale is important for ecosystem processes and species

Placement in landscape for wildlife movement connectivity and permeability accommodate migration routes, winter range, and other dynamic processes core Wilderness may lie in a matrix of federal, state, and private land

Geological, educational, scenic, historical, and primitive recreational values Areas that protect and restore the diversity of life unusual and underrepresented ecosystems and landforms
habitat for rare, sensitive, imperiled, and highly interactive species riparian and wetland habitats

Resource conflicts may exist; “reasonable” has been replaced by ecological criteria

Natural vegetation (present or restorable) including ancient forests

Use precautionary principle

DESIGN of proposed wilderness areas, and drawing boundaries for proposed wilderness areas and identification of units to be included or not included

Agency Criteria:

  • Topographically “defensible” boundaries
  • Exclude areas with resource conflicts
  • Exclude flat areas or areas without vegetative screening (“lack of solitude”)
  • Exclude areas with fading signs of roads and other human use (“purity”)
  • Exclude “unmanageable” areas
  • Exclude areas agency perceives are of “lower quality”
  • Exclude areas with limited recreational appeal
  • Exclude “redundant” areas

Traditional Conservationist Criteria:

  • Extend boundaries out to surrounding roads
  • Exclude some major resource conflicts
  • Generally exclude signs of human impact but to lesser degree than do agencies
  • Cherrystem roads and other human intrusions

Ecological Criteria:

  • Design to accommodate components of varied ecosystems and landforms
  • May include areas where resource conflicts exist and where management will be challenging if of high ecological value
  • Include areas showing some sign of human use if ecologically important such as riparian, wetland, natural vegetation, habitat for focal species
  • Design with rounded boundaries whenever possible to maximize internal area and minimize edges
  • Do not cherrystem roads and other human intrusions that can be closed or restored close roads or gate roads for permit holders’ access only
  • Implement connectivity within wildlands network bring boundaries of separate units closer together extend boundaries to roads and suitable buffers
  • Consider landscape dynamics changes in vegetation over time influenced by changing fire regimes and exotic species affected by scale and connectivity
  • Use precautionary principle

Consider defensible boundaries for management purposes but not necessarily based on “topographical” landmarks

Bigger is always better

PRIORITIZATION of proposed wilderness areas: determining relative priority for designation of proposed wilderness areas in a region

Agency Criteria:

  • Scenic in the classic “Crown Jewel” model
  • Exclude areas with resource conflicts
  • Exclude areas of controversy and opposition
  • Exclude areas perceived as “too much” or unreasonable

Traditional Conservationist Criteria:

  • Follow agency criteria but to a lesser degree
  • Areas with a strong constituency
  • Exclude areas perceived as “too much” or unreasonable (but more liberal than agencies)
  • Areas palatable to members of Congress
  • Areas that without protection would be vulnerable to degradation

Ecological Criteria:

Consider placement in landscape to function as part of a wildlands network including areas with potential for restoration as core Wilderness

Ecological value for sustaining and restoring biodiversity particularly focal species such as large carnivores or highly interactive species that serve as an umbrella for ecosystem protection
also “hot spots” of biodiversity

Larger areas, though not exclusively, which are more manageable and more self-regulating also consider islands and small areas within cultural and ecological context Areas that offer fire restoration opportunities

Areas with plant communities and landforms not well represented in protected area systems

Areas with potential core habitat for large carnivores

Use precautionary principle

Note: In some cases, ecological criteria replaces agency and traditional conservationist criteria; in other cases, it modifies or adds to agency and traditional conservationist criteria. Ecological criteria are not in conflict with, nor do they denigrate, scenic and recreational (experiential) values. Since the 1980s, conservationists have been generally moving in the direction of ecological criteria. Keep in mind that this is an outline and not a detailed discussion.

3 Responses to “Criteria for Ecological Wilderness”

  1. EricJanuary 19, 2015 at 10:14 pm #

    Land in the Midwest (US) is relatively inexpensive, Large tracts could be restored to Prairie Grasses, Meadows, Wetlands, and Forest along Watersheds that would support predation, migratory animals, native species, as well as give places to educate, recreate (Canoeing, Hiking, Camping, birding, Hunting,etc)
    Biophilic Cities would offer all the same, Green Roofs and Biophlic Designed Schools (nature Prints, indoor forest/waterfalls, Views of Native Landscaping, Forest/Bird sounds recorded and played, Rock, Wood, interprative learning,etc would Instill Stewartship, Self Directed Learning, Divergent thinking, and Reduce ADD/ADHD symtoms,etc

  2. Patricia RandolphMarch 9, 2016 at 6:02 pm #

    Since hunting, which has morphed from survival hunting to recreational and trophy hunting, and trapping are one of two major contributions to the destruction of 52% of all wildlife on the planet in just 40 years ( 1970-2010 ), there should not be hunting bias to disturb and terrorize natural beings and natural systems. When hunters are involved, they destroy natural predators in the shoot, shovel, and shut-up or obvious entitlement “culture” of male supremacy and violence. Hunting and habitat destruction are the two major causes of wildlife imbalance of species and destruction on this planet. The other culprit is ranching and animal agriculture which have pretty much raped out native species on our public lands rented out for a pittance to ranchers through the 1930’s Taylor Grazing Act. The stranglehold that ranchers hold over our Senate and House are evident in that Act never being reformed or rescinded and the continued mass murder of bison and wild horses, all the way to groundhogs, wolverines, wolves, bears, cougars and really any wild creature that makes a good head on wall or bite of carcass. Humans are not the God given being on this planet and we need the web of life and climate and pollinators and all life that we are destroying. Lead shot kills a million songbirds annually in Wisconsin alone – to say nothing of our water systems and landscape loaded with lead against all common sense. Trapping destroys a million animals in Wisconsin alone. $5 license incentives – rape out all you want for 7 months day and night has been a recruitment “success” in training 6,000 new trappers to add to 10,000 already trapping for the Chinese and Russian fashion markets of the newly rich. What is left is Wisconsin a hot-bed of Lyme disease as the two hosts of the lyme tick proliferate – mice ( trapped out mid-range predators ) and deer ( farmed at artificially high numbers with coyotes and wolves and bears killed as trophy and fun. Non-profits cannot continue to pander to the killing minority by not addressing this rogue control of state agencies by funding them on killing licenses. We have never had a democracy in governing public lands purchased 86% by wildlife watchers and those who do not kill anybody – or in governing our wildlife supposed “commons”. As a humane citizen, I cannot pay $5 and SAVE a single bobcat or otter or bear or wolf. This is insane that the non-profits are run by people who do not take on this along with human overpopulation and consumption. What is worse that killing for fun and destroying the balance of life that we all depend upon.

  3. SusanMay 10, 2016 at 10:57 am #

    Thank you for your thoughtful comments on the evolution of hunting.
    Best, Susan

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