Alan Watson

Research Social Scientist

Research Interests:
  • Modeling the effects of personal and social meanings on landscape level forest policy decisions.
  • Examining the role of wilderness in larger social and ecological systems.
  • Exploring the conflicting personal and social meanings and values associated with wilderness.
  • Monitoring recreation use and experiential aspects of wilderness use.
  • Understanding personal relationships with place, wilderness and activity among special provision users of wilderness.
  • Investigating personal and societal responses to recreation fees for wilderness use.
  • Examining the role of traditional phenological knowledge in prescribing adaptation to climate change.
  • Studying the relationship between the public and public lands and contributors to trust.
  • Understanding trade-offs and priorities in valuing ecosystem services across stakeholders.


  • Ph.D., Forestry, 1983. - Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA. Dissertation: An application of behavioral decision theory to recreation site selection.
  • M.S., Forestry, 1980. - Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA. Thesis: Technology transfer: lateral diffusion of innovation in forest recreation planning and management.
  • B.S., Forestry, 1978. - Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Blacksburg, VA.


Alan retired after 35 years of federal service as a Research Social Scientist at the Leopold Institute. Dr. Watson’s primary responsibility was to provide science to support protection and restoration decisions by managers of units in the National Wilderness Preservation System administered by the Forest Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management and the Fish & Wildlife Service, although his research and consultation extends broadly to issues dependent upon understanding relationships between humans and protected area attributes.

While Alan’s research and consultation extended to over 110 million acres of the National Wilderness Preservation System, about half of that acreage is in Alaska. Management of these areas is complex due to special provisions that focus on continuing traditional practices and uses. Across the National Wilderness Preservation System and across the agencies Alan served, traditional uses are very important. For that reason, Alan led an integrated science team for several years focusing on understanding and mapping cultural landscape values and how environmental change and fire and fuel management policy decisions interact with these values.

Alan is the Science Coordinator for the World Wilderness Congress, an Executive Editor of the International Journal of Wilderness and has served on Fulbright assignments in Russia (twice), Finland, Brazil and Taiwan. In September of 2016, Alan was a co-author of the Management Guidelines for IUCN Protected Area Category 1b (Wilderness), released at the World Conservation Congress in Hawaii, to provide international direction for management and restoration decisions in strictly protected areas.

Professional Activities

  • Executive Editor for Science, International Journal of Wilderness.
  • Guest Editor, International Journal of Wilderness: ecosystem service applications, wild rivers, Alaska, 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act – contributions of science to stewardship.
  • Co-Chair, Committee on Valuing Ecosystem Services, North American Wilderness and Protected Area Cooperation.
  • Guest Editor, Journal of Leisure Research & Journal of Park and Recreation Administration (issues on conflict, fees and pricing).
  • Editor/Compiler, Personal, societal, and ecological values of wilderness: Proceedings for Sixth, Seventh, Eighth, Ninth and Tenth World Wilderness Congresses, Bangalore, India; Port Elizabeth, South Africa; Anchorage, Alaska; Merida, Yucatan, Mexico; Salamanca, Spain.
  • Invited lectures sponsored by the Komarov Botanical Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences; Finnish Academy of Sciences; World University Network; University of Leeds, UK; Department of Conservation, New Zealand; University of Piracicaba, Brazil; University of Sichuan, China; National Park Service, Taiwan; National Taitung University, Taiwan; PAN Parks, Estonia.
  • Adjunct Faculty, University of Montana.

Honors & Awards

  • Fulbright Scholar, University of Lapland & Finnish Forest Research Institute.
  • Fulbright Senior Environmental Specialist Award, University of São Paulo, Brazil.
  • Fulbright Senior Environmental Specialist Award, Komarov Botanical Institute, Russian Academy of Sciences, St. Petersburg, Russia.
  • Fellow, US Academy of Leisure Sciences, National Recreation and Parks Association.
  • Chief of the Forest Service, Excellence in Wilderness Research Award, 1998 and 2012.
  • National Science Foundation Award, Searching for compatibility in traditional, ecological and ecotourism values of wilderness in the Circumpolar North.

Alan Watson Video