December 2015 | Volume 231, Number 3


Editor’s Note: This article is a summary and synthesis of the interagency “Keeping It Wild” strategy (available online at http://www. Large sections of the strategy are presented verbatim to help the reader understand the context and updates to the strategy. Thus, this summary should not be considered the unique work of the author.


The 1964 Wilderness Act’s Statement of Policy, Section 2(a) states that wilderness areas “shall be administered… so as to provide for the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character” (Public Law 88-577). This section of the act puts emphasis on a concept that can be at times abstract and contentious, but critical to the essence of wilderness. This is the notion of wilderness character. As legal mandate in the Wilderness Act and the subsequent policies of the four federal wilderness managing agencies (the Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service; the Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service), wilderness character applies to all wildernesses across the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). These legal and policy mandates raise several questions: What is our understanding of wilderness character? How do we examine wilderness character within the NWPS? How do we know if we are preserving wilderness character?

The 2008 publication of Keeping It Wild: An Inter- agency Strategy for Monitoring Wilderness Character across the National Wilderness Preservation System (Landres et al. 2008) provided a nationally consistent interagency strategy to assess whether wilderness character is being preserved. Landres et al. (2008) explain that the primary purpose of this monitoring strategy was to improve wilderness stewardship by providing wilderness managers a tool with which to assess how attributes of wilderness character are changing over time. These changes in attributes are related to stewardship activities and their outcomes. Thus, a monitoring strategy should provide information that addresses the following:

  • How do stewardship activities affect attributes of wilderness character?
  • How are attributes selected to be integral to wilderness character changing over time within a wilderness, within an agency, and across the NWPS?

Building an Interagency Strategy

The Keeping It Wild interagency monitoring strategy incorporates a wide variety of information and data from different resource areas to understand and examine wilderness character for a wilderness unit. Landres et al. (2015) suggest that wilderness character monitoring provides the agencies:

  • information to improve on-the-ground wilderness stewardship and wilderness policy reviews that is based on credible data that are consistently collected and endure over time as personnel change;
  • accountability for the legal and policy mandate “to preserve wilderness character” that links key stewardship activities directly to the 1964 Wilderness Act; and
  • a communication framework to comprehensively discuss wilderness stewardship needs and priorities within and among the four wilderness managing agencies and with the public.

Landres et al. (2008; 2015) utilize the statutory language of the 1964 Wilderness Act to identify five qualities of wilderness character that form the foundation of the Keeping It Wild  monitoring  strategy: (1) Untrammeled, (2) Natural, (3) Undeveloped, (4) Solitude or Primitive and Unconfined Recreation, and (5) Other Features of Landres et al. (2008) describe each of these qualities with consistent monitoring questions and indicators. However, they suggest that each quality should be assessed with specific measures identified by the agency or local wilderness managers responsible for the given wilderness area. In this manner, the strategy can provide guidelines for selecting locally relevant measures and describe how to assess trends in the measures, indicators, monitoring questions, qualities, and in wilderness character. In the updated strategy, Landres et al. (2015) also address misuses, misconceptions, and known concerns about wilderness character monitoring.

Landres et  al. (2008; 2015) strived to create a pragmatic and effective way to assess trends in wilderness character. However, to keep the scope of the framework practical, the Keeping It Wild strategy

  • monitors tangible attributes of the five qualities of wilderness character derived from Section 2(c) in the 1964 Wilderness Act, and does not monitor the intangible, symbolic, societal, or personal values, meanings, and benefits of wilderness character;
  • assesses trend in wilderness character over time for an entire wilderness, and does not assess how wilderness character is changing in specific locations within a wilderness, or how wilderness character compares across different wildernesses; and
  • does not fulfill all of the monitoring requirements that are needed to manage an individual wilderness.

Keeping It Wild 2

Each agency independently implemented the 2008 Keeping It Wild monitoring strategy, and agency-specific adjustments were made to improve the relevance and applicability of these concepts. In March 2014, the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute organized an Interagency Wilderness Character Monitoring Lessons Learned Workshop. The purpose of this workshop was to build on what had been learned since Keeping It Wild was published in 2008 and make necessary corrections to ensure future interagency consistency in wilderness character monitoring.  Landres  et al. (2015) utilized the findings from this workshop and several recent publications (BLM 2012; NPS 2014a; NPS 2014b) as the basis for Keeping It Wild 2, which updates and replaces the original 2008 publication.

The Keeping It Wild 2 strategy is structured around the following process (as described in Landres et al. 2015):

  • To ensure national consistency, all agencies use the strategy’s organizational framework of qualities, monitoring questions, and indicators for each wilderness. One or more measures are selected for each indicator that are either chosen by the local office managing the wilderness or required by the managing agency.
  • Data are collected, gathered, or compiled for each measure, using existing resources wherever possible.
  • Once there are at least two data points per measure, a trend (upward, stable, or downward) is determined based on agency- required or locally established rules. Trends in each measure are reported at five-year intervals.
  • Trends in each measure within an indicator are compiled using consistent rules to determine the trend in the indicator. Only the trends in the measures, not the data, are compiled. These same rules are then used to determine the trend  in  each  monitoring question, each quality, and ultimately the overall trend in wilderness character.
  • Once the trend in wilderness character for each wilderness is determined, the percentage of wildernesses with an upward or stable trend in wilderness character within a region, an agency, and across the NWPS can be derived.

Major Changes for Keeping It Wild 2

Following the Interagency Wilderness Character Monitoring Lessons Learned Workshop in March 2014, recommendations to change or clarify the 2008 version of Keeping It Wild were developed.

General recommendations included that wilderness managed by more than one agency should use one set of measures for wilderness character monitoring. It was also suggested that wilderness character monitoring is appropriate for areas that are not legally designated as wilderness as long as agency policy requires that the area be managed to preserve its wilderness character. The 2008 Keeping It Wild stated that wilderness character monitoring applied only to designated wildernesses, but wilderness character monitoring can also track on-the-ground changes and inform stewardship in areas with future potential for wilderness designation.

Recommendations were also made for when trends in a measure, monitoring question, indicator, quality, and overall trend in wilderness character are reported. Landres et al. (2015) recommended that these trends should be described as “downward” or “upward” instead  of “degrading” or “improving,” respectively. Additionally, a detailed description of possible measures is no longer included in Keeping It Wild 2. Such detail in the 2008 version was necessary to help users understand how this interagency strategy could be implemented. However, Keeping It Wild 2 places emphasis on interagency consistency across the qualities and indicators, not the measures. Landres et al. suggest that each agency needs to determine their own process for selecting measures, including whether to use agency-required measures or measures determined by the local wilderness unit. While Keeping It Wild 2 does not include detailed descriptions of measures, Landres et al. do provide general guidance for identifying appropriate measures for the Untrammeled and Natural qualities in the appendices.

Key recommendations are also made to the five wilderness qualities; Following is a summary of those recommendations (Landres et al., 2015):

Untrammeled Quality

  • The definition  of  this  quality needs to include the idea of “intentionality” to focus more tightly on  the  purpose  behind a The 2008  Keeping It Wild did not include “intentionality” in the definition of the Untrammeled Quality, but including it greatly improved understanding about this quality.
  • Subsistence or sport hunting that is allowed in wilderness areas is not considered an intentional manipulation that degrades the Untrammeled Quality unless that hunting is authorized or managed to intentionally alter natural wildlife abundance or distribution, or predator-prey relationships.

Natural Quality

  • The three 2008 indicators (“Plant and animal species and communities,” “Physical resources,” and “Biophysical processes”) are replaced with four indicators (“Plants,” “Animals,” “Air and water,” and “Ecological processes”) to provide greater clarity and linkage with existing agency resource areas.
  • Discussion about the possible use of measures of indigenous species and species that are listed as threatened, endangered, sensitive, or of concern has been deleted. Such measures created significant problems in providing interpretable trends in the data because human-caused change is confounded with natural variability.
  • A measure that relies on data from outside the wilderness (e.g., intentional predator con- trol actions) may be used to infer effects inside the wilderness if such a measure is the best or only one available, and a direct link between the action outside the wilderness and its likely effect in the wilderness can be verified

Undeveloped Quality

  • Defunct installations, structures, and developments may be included in a measure of physical developments.
  • Large debris/trash (e.g., motor vehicles, airplanes, military debris, mining debris, trash dumps) may be included in a measure of physical developments.
  • The monitoring question and indicator focused on cultural resources constructed by indigenous peoples prior to modern settlement, such as cliff dwellings, pit houses, and kivas, were moved to the new “Other Features of Value” Quality.

Solitude or Primitive and Unconfined Recreation Quality

  • Medium-sized trash (e.g., hunt- ing and outfitting camp trash, marine trash on a beach) may be considered in a measure under the indicator “remoteness from sights and sounds of people inside wilderness.” In contrast, micro-trash (e.g., twist ties, wrappers) should not be considered in a measure under this indicator.

Other Features of Value Quality

  • This quality was not included by Landres et in the 2008 Keeping It Wild publication but has already been used or proposed for use by all four agencies. This quality focuses on the condition of tangible, site-specific features that contribute to scientific, educational, scenic, and historical values in wildernesses, as well as contribute to subsistence value. This quality accounts for cultural resources that are integral to wilderness character.
  • This quality addresses one monitoring question, “What are the trends in the unique features that are both tangible and integral to wilderness character?” This question has two indicators: “Deterioration or loss of integral cultural features” and “Deterioration or loss of other tangible and integral features of value.”

Moving Forward

Wilderness character is a complex concept with intangible, societal, and personal aspects. Landres et al. (2015) suggest that this monitoring strategy is not a decision-making framework that can be used to determine what projects or actions should or should not occur within a wilderness. Rather, they argue that this monitoring shows how wilderness character is changing over time as a result of such projects and actions. The qualities described by Landres et al. in this monitoring strategy may also be useful as a means for organizing and describing potential effects from proposed projects and actions.

Landres et al. (2015) describe the primary audiences for the information from this monitoring framework as agency staff who manage wilderness day-to-day, and regional and national staff who develop wilderness policy and assess its effectiveness. They suggest that the results of this monitoring provide these staff key data they need to improve wilderness stewardship and wilderness policy. The revised Keeping It Wild 2 strategy is designed to be nationally consistent across the four wilderness managing agencies, remain locally relevant, be cost-effective, and facilitate communication across stakeholders that are responsible for preserving wilderness character. Landres et al. (2015) suggest that implementing this monitoring strategy does not guarantee the preservation of wilderness character but rather informs and improves wilderness stewardship and ensures managers are accountable to the mandate of the Wilderness Act— preserving wilderness character.

ROBERT DVORAK is managing editor of the International Journal of Wilderness and associate professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services Administration at Central Michigan Univer- sity; email:



Bureau of Land Management. 2012. Measuring Attributes of Wilderness Character. BLM Implementation Guide Version 1.5. Retrieved from character.

Landres, P., C. Barns, J. G. Dennis, T. Devine, P. Geissler, C. S. McCasland, L. Merigliano, J. Seastrand, and R. Swain. 2008. Keeping It Wild: An Interagency Strategy to Monitor Trends in Wilderness Character Across the National Wilderness Preservation System. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-212. Fort Collins, CO: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station.

Landres, P. et al. 2015. Keeping It Wild 2: An Updated Interagency Strategy to Monitor Trends in Wilderness Character Across the Wilderness Preservation System. General Technical Report RMRS-GTR-340. Fort Collins: USDA Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station. Available at 49721”

National Park Service. 2014a. Keeping It Wild in the National Park Service: A User Guide to Integrating Wilderness Character into Park Planning, Management, and Monitoring. National Park Service, Publication Number WASO 909/121797. Lakewood, CO: Denver Service Center.

———. 2014b. Wilderness Stewardship Plan Handbook: Planning to Preserve Wilderness Character. National Park Service, Publication Number WASO 909 122875. Lakewood, CO: Denver Service Center.