Wilderness Stewardship and Backcountry Management

By Rob Burrows (last updated April, 2015)
two pink flowers stand in front of a small lake and Denali

NPS Photo / Kent Miller

Celebration and reflection in 2014 of 50 years of the Wilderness Act wilderness brought a reaffirmation for preserving wilderness character across the nation. The primary affirmative mandate of the 1964 Wilderness Act is that land management agencies preserve the wilderness character of all areas designated as wilderness, which includes 2 million acres of Denali. National Park Service policies extend this to areas not yet designated but that are eligible wilderness, another ~4 million acres of Denali.

Protecting the wilderness character of Denali is not only a legal mandate, but vital to preserving this vast intact ecosystem and the wilderness values it exemplifies. Monitoring certain conditions and indicators using the best available science is an important effort in tracking and preserving wilderness character, protecting Denali’s resources, and in providing opportunities for high quality visitor experiences in the backcountry. Efforts are underway to annually monitor the indicators of visitor experience and resource conditions that are identified in Denali’s 2006 Backcountry Management Plan. This monitoring is an interdivisional and interdisciplinary team effort. Recent fruits of this effort are mentioned below, see these documents for more details.

  • State of the Backcountry Report was published in 2014. It provides, for the first time, a report documenting the current state of Denali’s wilderness character.
  • Wilderness Character Map. In conjunction with Peter Landres and James Tricker of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, park staff have completed a wilderness character map. The report will be available later in 2015. Using the wilderness character framework, this map uses various digital spatial (GIS) datasets that represent degradation to the 5 wilderness character qualities.
  • Informal (social) Trail Status Report. Most of the Denali backcountry has a “no formal trails” policy outside of busy nodes along the Denali Park Road as per the 2006 Backcountry Management Plan. Thus informal trail formation is of concern when trying keep to the Denali “no formal trails” policy. The first report of a partial inventory of informal trails was published in 2014. The focus of this first effort was along the park road where a total of 323 informal trails were identified. More extensive trail networks have been documented in 14 backcountry units.