Our Science

A Great Place to Do Wilderness Science

Sound wilderness management is built on a foundation of comprehensive wilderness science. Without stewardship and management, wilderness designation will not necessarily result in wilderness protection. And without science, management is little more than trial and error. The importance of science to the protection of wilderness values will only increase with time, as the contrast between wilderness and developed lands widens, as the diversity of wilderness values expands, and as the threats to those values intensify. The Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute was established in 1993 as the research organization for the National Wilderness Preservation System. It was preceded by the Forest Service’s Wilderness Management Research Unit established in 1967. 

Knowing the Experts

Our scientists, along with partner scientists from federal and state agencies, universities, and organizations, together provide extensive experience in a broad range of wilderness science topics. We have completed many hundreds of studies over the five decades since the Unit was established in the 1960’s. Through networking and sharing of knowledge about wilderness science and soliciting ideas about science needs from managers and enthusiasts, we undertake to conduct interdisciplinary science programs that address the highest priority information needs.

Power of Partnerships

Our culture of partnering with scientists from other organizations brings necessary expertise together to address complex research questions, complete assessments on the state of wilderness science, and produce science syntheses on specific topics. These activities are invaluable to wilderness managers because they range from answering specific questions to providing general overviews of what has been learned and thus serves to inform wilderness stewardship.

Current and Future Wilderness Stewardship Challenges 

Our scientists work regularly with wilderness managers, staff, and agency leaders to keep informed about challenges facing wilderness managers. For example, through the 2014 Wilderness Managers Survey, we asked managers to think about the challenges facing wilderness stewardship over the next 20 years. We used the results of this survey to help inform development of 2020 Vision: Interagency Stewardship Priorities for America’s National Wilderness Preservation System and are now working with the Interagency Wilderness Steering Committee to develop the 2020 Vision implementation plan. We are also using findings from the survey and direct contact with the wilderness personnel and scientists to define our research agenda in ways that will ensure its relevance to managers.

The Added Value of Leveraging

The Leopold Institute leverages almost all funds we receive. We use funding the NWPS agencies provide for science, together with funding from other federal agencies and wilderness organizations, to accomplish a research agenda that is more comprehensive than any one organization could afford. We draw on our cadre of affiliated experts from other agencies and universities to accomplish both complex projects and projects where the Leopold Institute does not have in-house expertise. This approach achieves high scientific flexibility and an expansive impact on wilderness science and stewardship while minimizing costs to the Institute of maintaining a large staff of scientists.