Every year, the four wilderness managing agencies receive hundreds of proposals for diverse research and ecological restoration projects to be implemented inside designated wilderness. Most wilderness managers want to support science and restoration within the concepts and ideals of the Wilderness Act. All such projects require a special use permit and managers have the discretion to approve or deny them, but what is the right thing to do when a proposed project has considerable impacts to wilderness character?
Current law and policies do not provide explicit support for decision-making, and management decisions often reflect individual views based on varying philosophical or ethical beliefs about the fundamental values of wilderness. These beliefs and values can vary tremendously among the four wilderness managing agencies, and even among different offices within a single agency. The Leopold Institute is developing a variety of interagency, cost-effective and practical decision frameworks and management tools to help managers make difficult and challenging decisions in an open and transparent manner. These tools are intended to be comprehensive (evaluating the full range of benefits and impacts), systematic (using a structured process that applies to all agencies and all wildernesses), and flexible (requiring local input to accommodate local conditions and needs).
Easy-to-use decision support tools developed by the Leopold Institute include searchable databases of:
- Verified basic information on every wilderness (www.wilderness.net/NWPS/advSearch)
- Legislative history for every wilderness (www.wilderness.net/NWPS/legislativeHistory)
- Special provisions in all wilderness legislation (www.wilderness.net/NWPS/specialProvisions)
We’re also developing practical and cost-effective interagency tools to support complex and difficult decisions in three areas:
- Scientific activities in wilderness. Most scientific activities are legal and pose few adverse impacts. In contrast, some science projects involve illegal activities, even though the projects may be important to management or society-at-large. We’re developing a tool to supplement the Minimum Requirements Analysis process (www.wilderness.net/MRA) to help managers evaluate proposed scientific activities by asking appropriate legal, policy, and ethical questions that are unique to scientific activities and not typically evaluated in the MRA process.
- Ecological interventions in wilderness. Many ecological interventions have intentionally occurred in wilderness, such as introducing or removing fish and wildlife species, planting trees, or applying herbicide. Climate change will most likely exacerbate the pressures for these types of ecological interventions. We are developing a tool to supplement the Minimum Requirements Analysis process (www.wilderness.net/MRA) to help managers evaluate proposed ecological interventions by asking appropriate legal, policy, and ethical questions that are unique to ecological interventions and not typically evaluated in the MRA process.
- context, or the values, threats, and stakeholder concerns for the area;
- inputs, or the cornerstone elements that direct management such as legislative direction, agency policies, planning direction, and administrative resources;
- processes, or the management systems for implementing policies and plans;
- outputs, or the products and services that are being delivered both internally and externally; and,
- outcomes, or the legislative and policy goals that are being achieved. We’re developing an approach that would consolidate and align several ongoing US agency efforts with this comprehensive international process to help inform decisions about wilderness stewardship in the United States.