Peter Landres

Emeritus Scientist

790 East Beckwith Avenue
Missoula, Montana 59801

Research Interests

My research is broadly aimed at developing the knowledge needed to protect and sustain the ecological benefits and values in wilderness while also developing the strategies and tools for improving the ecological-based management of wilderness nationwide. Because wilderness management decisions are based on laws, agency policy, scientific information, social values and ethics, my research reaches into all of these areas. My current work focuses on the following general topics:

  • Building ways to strengthen wilderness planning, management, and monitoring based on the concept of wilderness character.
  • Developing guidelines to evaluate whether to use active ecological intervention or a hands-off approach in wilderness stewardship.
  • Developing guidelines to evaluate proposals for scientific activities in wilderness and improve communication between wilderness managers and scientists.


  • Ph.D., Ecology and Biology, 1981. - Utah State University, Logan, UT. Dissertation: Community organization of the arboreal birds in some oak woodlands of western North America.
  • B.S., Natural Science, 1972. - Lewis and Clark College, Portland, OR.

Curriculum Vitae


Starting in 1982, I worked for three years as a postdoctoral fellow on a National Science Foundation funded project to study methods for restoring areas that had been strip mined in southwestern Wyoming. From 1985-1992, I taught ecology, biology, and conservation biology at the University of Puget Sound, Tacoma, Washington and ecology, evolution, and environmental issues at the University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado. In 1992, I joined the Forest Service’s Wilderness Management Research Unit that become the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute in 1993.

Research Projects

Wilderness character monitoring

I’ve co-chaired the US Fish and Wildlife, Forest Service, and National Park Service teams that developed their agency’s guidance on wilderness character monitoring. I chaired the interagency team that in 2008 published the first nationwide, interagency guidance for wilderness character monitoring, and the subsequent interagency team that in 2015 published "Keeping It Wild 2: An Updated Interagency Strategy to Monitor Trends in Wilderness Character Across the National Wilderness Preservation System." The goal of wilderness character monitoring is to improve wilderness stewardship by providing information on trends in key indicators that tie directly to the statutory requirements of the 1964 Wilderness Act, subsequent wilderness legislation, and agency policies to "preserve wilderness character." I continue to work closely with all four wilderness managing agencies to ensure the rigor and credibility of agency implementation of wilderness character monitoring.

See the following publication links for more information:

  • 2005. Monitoring selected conditions related to wilderness character: a national framework.
  • 2008. Keeping it wild: an interagency strategy to monitor trends in wilderness character across the National Wilderness Preservation System.
  • 2009. Technical guide for monitoring selected conditions related to wilderness character.
  • 2015. Keeping it wild 2: an updated interagency strategy to monitor trends in wilderness character across the National Wilderness Preservation System.

Wilderness character monitoring database

I'm leading the development and use of a single database for data entry, data storage, and reporting on trend in wilderness character for every wilderness in the National Wilderness Preservation System. This database is permissioned-access only through each of the four wilderness managing agencies, and is now a fully functional, internet-based database serving the needs of all four wilderness managing agencies. As this database is used, I’m providing oversight to ensure that it is revised to incorporate feedback to make it as easily usable as possible.

Integrating wilderness character into planning and management

I co-chaired the National Park Service team that in January 2014 published “Keeping It Wild in the National Park Service: A User Guide to Integrating Wilderness Character into Park Planning, Management, and Monitoring” and “Wilderness Stewardship Plan Handbook: Planning to Preserve Wilderness Character.” These documents provide the background, templates, tools, and examples that can be used by all four wilderness managing agencies to base all wilderness stewardship on the fundamental principal of preserving wilderness character. I'm consulted by staff in all four agencies for help in understanding wilderness character and evaluating how different proposed activities, ranging from installing scientific instruments to toilets to ecological intervention projects, might affect wilderness character.

See the following publication links for more information:

  • 2008. Applying the concept of wilderness character to national forest planning, monitoring, and management.
  • 2012. Using wilderness character to improve wilderness stewardship.
  • 2014. Keeping it wild in the National Park Service: A user guide to integrating wilderness character into park planning, management, and monitoring.

Wilderness character mapping

With GIS Analyst James Tricker, I'm leading development of methods to make threats to wilderness character spatially explicit, that is, to map these threats. These maps can be used in various ways, for example to quantify the predicted effects of different planning alternatives on wilderness character, or to evaluate the predicted effects of a proposed project or action inside wilderness. The 2013 Death Valley Wilderness and Backcountry Stewardship Plan was based on these wilderness character maps, and this Plan received the following praise from the National Parks Conservation Association: “The plan is unique in that the park has implemented a process for assessing, monitoring, and seeking to protect or improve wilderness character. This is the first plan I have seen that actively measures wilderness character and seeks to improve it - the results were well worth the wait.”

See the following publication links for more information:

  • 2012. Mapping wilderness character in Death Valley National Park.
  • 2013. Keeping it wild: mapping wilderness character in the United States.
  • 2014. Mapping wilderness character in Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
  • 2015. Mapping wilderness character in Denali National Park and Preserve.

Wilderness Fellows Program

I chair the Wilderness Fellows Program to hire recent college graduates who live on-site and work closely with local staff to conduct wilderness character baseline assessments on US Fish and Wildlife Service, Forest Service, and National Park Service wildernesses. Over the past five years, 44 Fellows have been hired for six-month periods and they have now completed wilderness character baseline assessments on 112 wildernesses nationwide. The goals of the Fellows Program are to provide meaningful experiences for young people interested in careers in federal land management and conservation, and help these people become the next generation of conservation and wilderness leaders.
See the Wilderness Fellows Folder at for more information.

Evaluating proposals for ecological intervention in wilderness

With Leopold Institute scientist Beth Hahn, I'm co-leading the effort to develop a formal framework/decision support tool to evaluate whether to approve or deny proposed ecological intervention actions in wilderness. In 2014, we hosted an interagency workshop and developed a draft evaluation framework that incorporates law, policy, ecological and other scientific information, and ethics. This draft evaluation framework was pilot tested in 2015, is out for broad interagency review in 2016, and we are now working to develop this into formal publications.

See the following publication links for more information:

  • 2001. Naturalness and wildness: the dilemma and irony of ecological restoration in wilderness.
  • 2004. Managing the wild in designated wilderness.
  • 2010. Let it be: a hands-off approach to preserving wildness in protected areas.
  • 2016. Wilderness in the 21st century: A framework for testing assumptions about ecological intervention in wilderness using a case study of fire ecology in the Rocky Mountains.

Understanding the role of science in wilderness

I've been working with on-the-ground mangers for over a decade to develop a comprehensive and systematic framework for evaluating proposals for scientific activities inside wilderness. From a wilderness perspective, science activities may be innocuous, or they may cause concern because of their short- and long-term impacts to the qualities of wilderness character. The evaluation framework seeks to foster direct communication between scientists and managers, and fully evaluate both the benefits and impacts of the science so a transparent decision can be made whether to allow or deny the project. I’m currently working to simplify this evaluation framework and incorporate it as a supplement to the interagency Minimum Requirements Analysis/Minimum Requirements Decision Guide process.

See the following publication links for more information:

  • 2003. The challenge of doing science in wilderness: historical, legal, and policy context.
  • 2005. Balancing the benefits and impacts of science in Alaska’s wilderness.
  • 2010. An interagency framework to evaluate proposals for scientific activities in wilderness.
  • 2011. Wildlife scientists and wilderness managers finding common ground with noninvasive and nonintrusive sampling of wildlife.

Honors & Awards

  • USDA Forest Service, National Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Research Award. 2006.
  • USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Best Technology Transfer Publication Award. 2007.
  • Wilderness Stewardship Agencies, National Wilderness Preservation System Award. 2008.
  • DOI National Park Service, Director's Wes Henry National Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Award. 2013.
  • USDA Forest Service, National Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Award. 2015.