Passing the Wilderness Research Leadership Torch – Lucas to Watson

August 2016 | Volume 22, Number 2


In this issue of IJW, we celebrate the life of Bob Lucas as a well-known wilderness research leader and recreation research pioneer. During his career, Bob mentored many people who became leaders in their own right within the wilderness movement. One of his prot.g.s was a young social scientist, Dr. Alan Watson, who was hired to work for Bob after completing his PhD at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in 1983. Alan is fond of recounting his awe at first meeting Bob, and how Bob immediately invited him to see his lab. Alan claimed to be overwhelmed that Bob would be so quick to accept him and take him to his laboratory to share his research work. Alan’s thrill turned to laughter when Bob’s big black Labrador pounded into view. It was not the “lab” Alan had been thinking of seeing, but such was Bob’s quiet humor, and we can well imagine that both of these talented storytellers kept each other entertained during their highly productive research careers.

Throughout his career, Alan has conducted research on a wide variety of stewardship topics related to the human aspects of wilderness use and values. His research projects include topics such as

• the role of wilderness in larger social and ecological systems,

• conflicting personal and social meanings and values associated with wilderness,

• monitoring recreation use,

• experiential aspects of wilderness use,

• understanding personal relationships with place,

• wilderness activities among nonconforming and contentious uses of wilderness,

• personal and societal response to recreation fees for wilderness use,

• the role of traditional ecological knowledge in wilderness protection, and

• the relationship between the public and public lands.

Additionally, Alan has been very active internationally in working with researchers and managers from 13 countries on wilderness management and, in the process, receiving five Fulbright awards to further these cooperative efforts.

Alan’s long career as a research social scientist at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute in Missoula, Montana, was reviewed by a panel of scientists from across the United States at the request of the US Forest Service (USFS). According to a USFS press release in March 2016, the review panel “acknowledged that a significant thread through his career accomplishments at the Leopold Institute has been research leadership in expanding understanding of the meaning and value of wilderness, and how it plays out across different locations and stakeholders, particularly with respect to the Circumpolar North and Tribal Nations around the world.” The panel concluded that “Dr. Watson’s efforts have moved the science and understanding of wilderness towards better policies and well-informed management decisions and a greater likelihood of promoting an enduring contribution of wilderness to society and a sustainable planet.”

Based on the extensive panel review of Alan’s work, the USFS promoted him to an “ST” graded position in recognition of his contributions and leadership to the mission of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute and the Rocky Mountain Research Station’s Strategic Research Priority on Human-Landscape Interactions. Only 100 of the 4,200 scientists in the US Department of Agriculture have achieved such an award for high-level research performance. Finally, I acknowledge and appreciate Alan’s dedication to fostering science reporting in IJW in his capacity as a board member for more than 20 years.

CHAD DAWSON is editor in chief of IJW and a professor emeritus from SUNY-ESF in Syracuse, NY; email: