2020 NPS Wilderness Report

This webpage, in full, comprises the 2020 NPS Wilderness Report. Click on the topics to expand and view corresponding text.
Collage of wilderness photos including a flowering cactus, hikers on a bluff, a kayak in a bay, and a tent illuminated by a lantern..
2020 NPS Wilderness Report Photo Collage (start of report).

NPS, NPS/Jeff Rose, NPS/K. Miller, NPS/Hannah Schwalbe

From NPS Management Policies 2006 - Chapter 6: Wilderness Preservation and Management:

The National Park Service will manage wilderness areas for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such a manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment as wilderness. Management will include the protection of these areas, the preservation of their wilderness character, and the gathering and dissemination of information regarding their use and enjoyment as wilderness. The purpose of wilderness in the national parks includes the preservation of wilderness character and wilderness resources in an unimpaired condition and, in accordance with the Wilderness Act, wilderness areas shall be devoted to the public purposes of recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, and historical use.
I am pleased to introduce this 2020 Edition of the NPS Wilderness Report. This report is completed annually in accordance with Director’s Order #41 and provides a comprehensive summary of achievements related to meeting our statutory mandate and policy requirements to preserve wilderness character in National Park Service wilderness. The year 2020 was like non other in many ways, yet despite the challenges brought on by the pandemic, the NPS “community” of wilderness practitioners remained unwaivered in their commitment to wilderness stewardship.

The leadership of the Visitor and Resource Protection Directorate experienced some changes in 2020, with the departure of acting Associate Director Louis Rowe and the arrival of our new Associate Director, Jen Flynn. Louis was extremely supportive of wilderness stewardship program and we wish him the best of success in his new position as Deputy Superintendent at Grant Canyon National Park. Jen comes to the Directorate with a strong background in wilderness stewardship and is a dedicated supporter of the program.

Working with our NPS and interagency wilderness practitioners is a very special aspect of my position and relates well to one of my most coveted activities which is to acknowledge the work and dedication of NPS wilderness stewards. I’d like to begin by recognizing Erin Drake, Tim Devine, and Quinn Brett, our newest staff member, who make one of the smallest divisions in the NPS one of its most dedicated, productive, and influential.

The NPS National Wilderness Leadership Council is also worthy of special recognition. I’d like to extend a special “tip of the flat hat” to Woody Smeck, who served as Council Chair in 2020. I’d also like to recognize our cadre of Regional Wilderness Coordinators and park-based Wilderness Coordinators who serve as the backbone of regional and park-based wilderness stewardship efforts.

Each year, the very “best of the best” of wilderness stewardship achievements and contributions are honored through the Director’s Wes Henry Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Awards. The 2020 recipients - Mark Fincher (individual award), Buffalo National River Wilderness Stewardship Team (team award), and Jerry Goller (external partner award) - will be honored at a ceremony hosted by the National Park Foundation in August of 2021.

I believe the coming months and years will provide a window of opportunity to improve our commitment to wilderness stewardship across the service and, with that in mind, I encourage wilderness parks to address the following focus areas:

Wilderness Training
Park Superintendents and Deputy Superintendents are required to attend Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center Wilderness Stewardship Training within two years of coming to any park with wilderness. I’m confident participants will find this training to be extremely worthwhile.

Wilderness Character Monitoring
Wilderness parks will conduct a wilderness character assessment, which includes identifying what should be measured, establishing baseline data, and conducting ongoing monitoring of trends.

Wilderness Planning
The Superintendent of each park containing wilderness resources will develop and maintain a wilderness management plan or equivalent planning document to guide the preservation, management, and use of these resources.

Wilderness Status
There was no significant NPS wilderness legislation in 2020, however it bears noting that many NPS units have other categories of wilderness (recommended, proposed, or eligible wilderness), that for various reasons, have never culminated in wilderness designation. I encourage you to understand your park’s current wilderness status, how you got there, and consider, when feasible, the next steps that could lead to eventual wilderness designation.

The Wilderness Stewardship Division, with the support of the National Wilderness Leadership Council, stands ready to support wilderness parks with these focus areas.

In the coming year, it is my hope that all NPS personnel along with their families and friends will seek an opportunity to immerse themselves in one or more of our incredible wilderness areas. I’m confident, that in doing so, your body, mind and soul will be enriched.

Sincerely,
Roger L. Semler
Wes Henry Wilderness Award Recipients include Mark Fincher (upper left), Jerry Goller (upper right), and the Buffalo National River team (lower two rows).
2020 Director's Wes Henry Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Award Recipients include Mark Fincher (upper left pictured with Yosemite National Park Superintendent Cicely Muldoon), Jerry Goller (upper right), and the team at Buffalo National River (lower two rows).

NPS photo

The Director's Wes Henry “Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship” Awards are the agency’s annual recognition of outstanding contributions to wilderness stewardship by an individual, team/group, and non-governmental partner, including any program or discipline that influences the preservation of wilderness character int he NPS. Award recipients are nominated by fellow NPS staff and selected by an interdisciplinary panel established through the National Wilderness Leadership Council. The following award recipients will be recognized during an awards ceremony in August 2021.

2020 Individual Award: Mark Fincher
Mark Fincher, Wilderness Specialist at Yosemite National Park, has been and is one of the most dedicated and professional wilderness stewards in the National Park Service and in the National Wilderness Preservation System. In the last 20+ years of working in the Yosemite Wilderness, Mark has been a patrol ranger and climbing ranger, and has served as the park’s Wilderness Specialist for 17 of those years. He defines the standard for personal excellence in wilderness stewardship by intimately knowing the Wilderness Act and subsequent related legislation and engaging in deep thinking about wilderness philosophy and its application in preserving wilderness character. He is an ardent protector, avid reader and writer, and engaged educator about wilderness.

Working directly with park managers and planners on a daily basis, Mark communicates in a highly effective manner on issues dealing with wilderness policy and administration. He consistently and reliably prepares for defense of wilderness issues, researching existing laws, case laws, court opinions, and policy. This was particularly evident during the preliminary stages of the Yosemite Wilderness Stewardship Plan development. Mark was instrumental in thinking through and developing the Extent Necessary Determination ideas for the Tuolumne and Merced River Plans as well as the Half Dome Trail Stewardship Plan. The latter put in place the critical day use permit system and daily use quotas that allow for access to the summit of Half Dome while protecting Yosemite’s wilderness character.

Mark’s command of wilderness law and policy has led to better understanding of the value of wilderness by park personnel at all levels. Though the development of Minimum Requirement Analyses (MRA) is a shared responsibility of numerous staff throughout the NPS, Mark is one of the best in ensuring quality MRAs are thoughtfully and thoroughly developed. Mark has also served as a subject matter expert on an interagency work group established in 2020 charged with developing a new and improved worksheet and instructions for the Minimum Requirements Decision Guide. This initiative aims to provide a more user-friendly guide to support the preparation of professional and legally defensible MRAs for all federal wilderness management agencies.

His ability to offer practical and informed recommendations for resolving on-the-ground management issues inspires others as they take his ideas and adapt them for use in their respective wilderness areas. Mark has worked hard to build collaboration and partnership across the Sierras to address wilderness issues in a holistic and consistent manner that affect multiple agencies and includes the Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail. His presentation to the Access Fund stewardship group received the comment from them that, “It was truly a pleasure to have the opportunity to meet and hear you speak to Wilderness, what it means for the park, the implications in management challenges and the relationship to climbing.” One couple stated that hearing Mark’s insight about wilderness and climbing gave them valuable perspective in looking at things from new angles. Mark is also a training instructor for several courses hosted by the interagency Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, including the Regional Wilderness Stewardship Training, and the National Wilderness Leadership Training, where he co-teaches the “Preserve Wildness and Natural Conditions” session.

Mark’s body of work as a wilderness steward before, during, and after 2020 serve as an inspiration to all NPS wilderness practitioners and make him highly worthy of this special recognition.

2020 Team Award: Buffalo National River Wilderness Stewardship Team
The Buffalo National River Wilderness Stewardship Team has worked collaboratively across disciplines to help ensure the preservation of wilderness character while offering unique opportunities for the pubic to connect with the park’s 36,000-acre Buffalo River Wilderness. In particular, Wilderness Ranger Lauren Ray’s commitment to fostering wilderness stewardship through education and outreach was contagious and ignited a movement embraced by all park staff and stakeholders.

In 2020, Buffalo National River was designated as a Leave No Trace Gold Standard Site, joining an elite group of 12 NPS units nationwide to earn this honor. Ray’s unique style of incorporating humor into her public outreach has yielded a series of very popular and well-received Leave No Trace interpretive videos that help to promote positive stewardship ethics. Ray spearheaded an initiative with the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics to develop a ‘citizen science application’ intended to implement the monitoring strategies identified in the park’s Boxley Management Plan. This effort will enable the public to gather data as they walk wilderness trails, recording trail width and depth, trail braiding, and visitor encounters.

To further help grow wilderness awareness, the park’s 2020 award-winning Unigrid brochure specifically describes wilderness values and visually displays the three wilderness units via contrasting colors.

Seasonal Ranger Lindsay Martindale merged her passion for rock climbing with her wilderness character monitoring experience to document the increase in unauthorized climbing in the Ponca Unit of the wilderness area. Martindale developed proposed language for the Superintendent’s Compendium with recommendations to better communicate climbing restrictions, improve visitor safety, and preserve wilderness character, and the park’s Resource Management Team is now considering a potential Climbing Management Plan.

The park’s Fire Program continued its long-term efforts to restore the Natural Quality of wilderness character, using prescribed fire to promote native species and restore glade and post-oak savannah within the wilderness. These operations are helping to slow the decline of Eastern Collared Lizards while reducing intensity of future wildfires on park and surrounding private land. Rangers have also mapped over 50 miles of social trails in the Lower Buffalo Unit of the wilderness to guide future park management decisions regarding wilderness management while simultaneously discouraging extensive social trailing. Lastly, rangers are proactively examining the nexus between search and rescue and wilderness character preservation by considering the minimum tool options that address safety and time-sensitivity challenges.

The team’s wilderness stewardship achievements also included formal protection of the Frank and Eva Barnes “Granny” Henderson Farm and the Flowers Cabin by placing them on the National Register of Historic Places, and a Ranger-led trash recovery trip to the Cold Springs Schoolhouse, a popular hiking and horseback riding wilderness destination. This trip combined wilderness character monitoring and the removal of backpacks full of trash left behind by visitors.

Together, the team engaged in innovative pathways to elevate wilderness stewardship internally across interdisciplinary programs and communicate the importance of wilderness to the public. By embodying the spirit of wilderness stewardship and teamwork, the team has inspired and sustained fulfilling connections to the Buffalo National River Wilderness for park staff, partners, and visitors.

2020 Non-Government Partner Award: Jerry Goller
2020 was an unprecedented year that, at times, made wilderness stewardship a real challenge. At Buffalo National River, trailheads and boat launches overflowed daily. Record use was documented in the park’s 11 established campgrounds. Backcountry and wilderness visitation soared. For many visitors, this was their first time exploring the outdoors beyond their own backyard. Perhaps more than ever before, visitors recognized the value of their public lands and wilderness. They heard “outstanding opportunities for solitude” and flocked to the wilderness to fill their prescription for social distance! They heard “unconfined recreation” and with elation escaped their homes and cities! Here was an opportunity to cultivate stewardship for a resource that was now serving as a refuge from the chronic dread and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Long-time Buffalo National River volunteer Jerry Goller, who had historically focused on campground hosting and trail maintenance, switched gears in 2020 after identifying a need for bolstered preventative search and rescue (PSAR) efforts in the Ponca Unit of the Buffalo National River Wilderness, an area that was hit particularly hard by COVID-19 increased visitation. In response to a surge in emergency calls on the river and trails in the wilderness, Jerry developed an idea to record time-lapse video footage of every stretch of the Buffalo River and the most popular hiking trails in order to prepare prospective visitors for the difficulty and technicality of the terrain. These videos were uploaded to the "Plan Your Visit" section of the BUFF website and to the park's social media platforms, like this footage of paddling from Kyles Landing to Erbie in the park, a popular stretch of the river. These videos not only provide prospective visitors with an invaluable tool for trip planning, but they also improve the accessibility of the wilderness experience for people with disabilities. And anybody with internet access can now get a better idea of the Buffalo National River Wilderness experience by virtually "paddling" or "hiking" via Jerry's videos.

Jerry’s ability to adapt, identify emerging trends and challenges, and offer a practical tool to help resolve these challenges while simultaneously strengthening wilderness stewardship is commendable. His thoughtful work has several direct and indirect benefits to the Buffalo National River Wilderness, the people who enjoy this place, and the staff responsible for its management.
Members of the Central Sierra Work Group meet over video conference to discuss wilderness topics.
Members of the Central Sierra Work Group meet via video conference. Read more about this work group in the 'Wilderness in the Pandemic' section below.

NPS/Erik Frenzel

2020 was an unprecedented year for all of us. In a year that required patience and understanding, our wilderness parks explored new and creative ways to help people connect with wilderness in-person and from afar, all the while maintaining safe conditions for everyone involved. The following stories celebrate our innovative and adaptable wilderness parks in 2020.

Buffalo National River: Socially-Distanced Stewardship
Resource stewardship is probably not the first thing that comes to mind when we think back to our park management experiences in 2020. At Buffalo National River, trailheads and boat launches overflowed daily. Record use was documented in the park’s 11 established campgrounds. Backcountry and wilderness visitation soared. For many visitors, this was their first time exploring the outdoors beyond their own backyard.

Perhaps more than ever before, visitors recognized the value of their public lands. They heard of “outstanding opportunities for solitude” and flocked to the wilderness to fill their prescription for social distance. They heard “unconfined recreation” and with elation escaped their homes and cities. Here was an opportunity to cultivate stewardship for a resource that was now serving as a refuge from the chronic dread and uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Community Volunteer Ambassador Linsey Hughes worked closely with Buffalo National River’s non-profit friends group - the Buffalo National River Partners - to develop a stewardship initiative that would offset growing resource impacts like litter, graffiti, and trail erosion. This coordination culminated in two socially-distanced “Adopt-A-Spot” volunteer events on National Trails Day (June) and National Public Lands Day (September). These events engaged 65 volunteers who spread out across Buffalo National River’s trails, tributaries, parking lots, and river sections to pick up litter, clean graffiti, maintain trails, and monitor conditions. Seven of the 65 volunteers selected sites within designated wilderness, including popular landmarks like Hemmed-in Hollow Falls and Clabber Creek Shoals. Each volunteer submitted a report with work accomplished and any larger maintenance or resource protection issues that needed attention from NPS staff.

Denali National Park and Preserve: Adapting the Permitting Process
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear to the staff at Denali National Park and Preserve that wilderness and backcountry permitting would need to be dramatically restructured. The Denali Wilderness is largely trail-less, yet the park road that runs through it makes it uniquely accessible to a diverse array of backpackers of varying abilities. For years, the park’s approach to setting these backpackers up to travel safely and be good stewards has relied heavily on in-person consultation provided by backcountry rangers. Furthermore, our backcountry permits implement a quota system that spreads backpackers throughout the park, which supports wilderness character by improving solitude and minimizing the growth of informal trails. Consulting with backcountry rangers helps hikers feel empowered to get off the beaten path and have an exceptional wilderness experience.

Recognizing that the process needed to be retooled to minimize the rangers’ exposure to COVID-19, most aspects of wilderness and backcountry permitting changed. The public was not allowed inside the Backcountry Information Center, and daily backcountry orientations were offered outside. Because the park’s Bear-Resistant Food Containers loan program might contribute to the circulation of COVID-19, backpackers were asked to bring their own as a condition upon receiving the permit.

And the biggest change of all was the switch to advance reservations. Previously, backcountry permits were offered no more than one day before the start date of the backpacking trip. In order to give backpackers a chance to consult with rangers through the phone and email, book bus tickets, and iron out other logistics, the park made backcountry permits reservable two weeks in advance by email. In the words of one Anchorage resident who provided feedback following his trip, “The system used this year was a breath of fresh air.” He appreciated knowing that his trip was all set before making the five-hour drive from Anchorage.

Yosemite and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks: Central Sierra Virtual Collaboration
As parks and programs nationwide pivoted and adapted to the evolving COVID19 pandemic in the spring and summer of 2020, a group of central and southern Sierra Nevada wilderness managers turned towards each other for continued regional guidance and support.This group formed in 2016 with representatives from Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks, Yosemite National Park, Eldorado National Forest, Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest, Inyo National Forest, Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit (national forest), Sierra National Forest, Stanislaus National Forest, US Forest Service regional office staff, Pacific Crest Trail Association, and academics from several institutions. The growing demand and interest on the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and John Muir Trail, travelling through 42 percent and 96 percent wilderness respectively (though the PCT exclusively in the central sierra from Tahoe to Sequoia-Kings Canyon is 80 percent wilderness!), brought regional wilderness managers and staff that share boundaries and trail access to discuss impacts, capacities and solutions with partners and stakeholders. The group meets formally twice a year with a focus on travel patterns study and analysis, quota management, common educational themes, and collaborative decision making. The group has evolved, and in between these formal meetings, the members find more and more overlap in their work together as they respond to wildfires and design new recreation.gov permit systems. The rapport developed during these meetings has been worth its weight in gold, as new challenges emerge, knowing these relationships encourage idea sharing and support.

While COVID-19 was unprecedented and presented many unique circumstances, the group talked regularly to develop as many solutions in sync as possible—from permit issuing and reservations, to how education would occur, to how food storage was provided. These coordinated discussions and related actions provided a seamless and safe experience for the visitor during the pandemic, while protecting the contiguous wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. And as the group concluded, “This summer was not without its challenges, but knowing that we were supporting our neighbors helped make our decisions and actions that much easier.”
Park Wilderness Character Integration Efforts Expand
The Wilderness Character Building Blocks, as outlined in the 2014 NPS Wilderness Character Integration User Guide, provide the foundation for effectively integrating wilderness character into planning, management, and monitoring. The three-part Building Blocks establish a shared understanding of what is most important about each wilderness area and articulate those values for inclusion in a wilderness character preservation framework.

Building Block #1: Wilderness Basics
The Wilderness Basics is a concise document summarizing fundamental information about a wilderness. The central component of the Wilderness Basics is the Wilderness Character Narrative, a qualitative description of what is unique and essential about a wilderness area, organized by qualities of wilderness character. In 2020, Glacier National Park and Guadalupe Mountains National Park drafted the Wilderness Basics. As of 2020, 58 national park units have completed or drafted the Wilderness Basics.

Building Block #2: Wilderness Character Baseline Assessment
The Wilderness Character Baseline Assessment identifies relevant measures for monitoring the status (and subsequent changes) to the tangible qualities of wilderness character in a wilderness area. In 2020, Glacier National Park, Glacier Bay National Park, Gates of the Arctic National Park, and Guadalupe Mountains National Park drafted Baseline Assessments, while Haleakalā National Park completed their first five-year monitoring interval following the completion of a baseline assessment in 2015. As of 2020, a total of 46 national park units have completed or drafted Baseline Assessments.

Wilderness Character Baseline Assessment Highlight: North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park completed the Stephen Mather Wilderness: Wilderness Character Baseline Assessment in 2020, the culmination of several years effort to identify meaningful measures for long-term wilderness character trend monitoring for this 638,000-acre wilderness. Staff identified 24 measures across the five qualities of wilderness character for long-term monitoring, with 2015 as the baseline year for most measures. The first 5-year trend report, based on 2020 monitoring data, is expected sometime in 2021. Park staff have also begun the interdisciplinary effort to develop a Wilderness Stewardship Plan to address the complexity of issues facing this wilderness. Issues include the need to address commercial uses within wilderness, rapidly expanding overnight and day use of wilderness, climbing issues (including use of fixed anchors), ecological restoration actions, stock use, and other issues.

Wilderness Character Ongoing Monitoring Highlight: Haleakalā National Park
In 2020, Haleakalā National Park conducted the first round of monitoring for wilderness character following completion of a Wilderness Character Baseline Assessment in 2015. This monitoring assesses trend changes in the five tangible qualities of wilderness character (Natural, Untrammeled, Undeveloped, Solitude or Primitive and Unconfined Recreation, and Other Features of Value) for the Haleakalā Wilderness. The Haleakalā Wilderness protects more than 24,000 acres of extreme contrasts in terrain, ecology, climate, and scenery. Two distinct ecological environments comprise the Haleakalā Wilderness: the Haleakala Crater and the upper Kīpahulu Valley. Cinder cones stud the central crater amidst multi-hued variations of volcanic rock and soils while along the crater perimeter hearty vegetation reclaims this volcanic landscape. The Kīpahulu Valley is a place of lush cloud forests broken by clear streams and cascading waterfalls. While wilderness character monitoring assesses many attributes, the park is especially interested in plant and animal indicators which are part of the Natural Quality of wilderness character. The interwoven and diverse plant communities of the Haleakalā Wilderness support several native and endemic animal species, many of which are now threatened or endangered, particularly native forest birds. Some of Maui's forest birds are currently in peril. The park is also interested in the Remoteness from Sights and Sound of Human Activity indicators as the park has been named as one of the "quietest places on earth."

Building Block #3: Integrating Wilderness Character into Management and Operations
Integrating wilderness character into management and operations includes implementing best practices like the proactive use of Minimum Requirements Analyses and establishing a park interdisciplinary wilderness committee.

Park Wilderness Committee Highlight: Guadalupe Mountains National Park
Guadalupe Mountains National Park reactivated an interdisciplinary Park Wilderness Committee in 2020. The park installed a large interpretive panel the main Visitor Center entryway that showcased wilderness values and the park’s inclusion within the National Wilderness Preservation System. The park hopes this prominent display will raise public awareness of the centrality of preserving wilderness values as part of the Guadalupe National Park mission. Jasmine Cutter, a Wilderness Character Fellow, is working with the Wilderness Committee to create a Wilderness Character Baseline Assessment that incorporates the work of previous fellow, Christina Mills, and will add additional measures as needed. Current and future staff will use the measures to continue monitoring impacts and improvements to wilderness character, and the document will form the framework for the park’s renewed effort to create an updated Wilderness Stewardship Plan.

2020 Wilderness Fellows
The WSD partnered with the NPS Geoscientists-in-Parks Program (GIP) in 2020, hiring two interns to assist parks with their wilderness character integration efforts. The 20-week GIP Program provides NPS conservation experience and developmental opportunities for college students and recent graduates. Glacier National Park received the help of Jillian McKenna, and Jane Windler and Jasmine Cutter worked with Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Interns worked closely with park staff to receive interdisciplinary input and data to inform the development of the park’s Wilderness Character Building Blocks Report. Both parks will continue this work into 2021.

'Unfinished' Wilderness
The NPS administers over 26 million acres of land that have been identified as eligible, proposed, and recommended wilderness. These other categories of wilderness were determined through processes outlined in Management Policies 2006, Section 6.2 and are often referred to as ‘unfinished' wilderness because they have not yet advanced through the designation process. NPS wilderness stewardship policies require these lands to be managed to preserve wilderness character until wilderness legislation (or a decision to not designate lands) has been completed. Management decisions affecting these areas will be made in expectation of eventual wilderness designation. The other categories of wilderness are defined as follows:
  • Eligible Wilderness = An area that possesses the qualities and character, as identified within the Wilderness Act, which would qualify it for designation within the National Wilderness Preservation System. An area where, based upon a wilderness eligibility assessment, the Director has approved the managerial determination of eligibility for wilderness designation and has published notice of eligibility in the Federal Register.
  • Proposed Wilderness = The findings and conclusions of a formal wilderness study that have been submitted as the NPS proposal by the Director to the Department of the Interior, but has not been approved by the Secretary.
  • Recommended Wilderness = An eligible wilderness area that has been studied and proposed by the NPS, recommended for wilderness designation by the Secretary to the President, and then transmitted by the President as his recommendation for wilderness designation to Congress.
  • Potential Wilderness = Lands which possess wilderness characteristics which would normally qualify them for designation within the National Wilderness Preservation System but contain temporary nonconforming or incompatible conditions (such as structures or roads) or uses (such as in-holdings, valid mining claims or operations) which prevent their being immediately designated as wilderness. These lands may be identified as “potential wilderness” in NPS wilderness proposals, wilderness recommendations, and by Congress in legislation designating other portions of a park as wilderness. Designated potential wilderness should be converted to designated wilderness once the non-conforming uses have been extinguished by publishing a notice in the Federal Register.
National Wilderness Leadership Council Updates
The NPS Wilderness Leadership Council (NWLC) serves an advisory council to the Director on all matters pertaining to wilderness. The NWLC strives to enhance the agency’s ability to address critical wilderness stewardship issues. The NWLC maintained five work groups in 2020:
  • Programmatic Minimum Requirements Analysis (MRA) - Continued work on guidance that will provide information on when to develop a programmatic MRA, positive aspects/negative aspects, and what makes the analyses effective.
  • Wilderness Character Monitoring - Continued work on an agency-specific technical guide to expand on interagency framework for wilderness character monitoring.
  • Wilderness Climbing Management - Surveyed NPS Climbing Managers Network to gather existing permitting, staff capacity, training, and partnerships information related to climbing; continued work on guidance for the fixed anchor authorization process.
  • Wilderness and Cultural Resources - Continued work on guidance to address the nexus between wilderness and cultural resources management.
  • Wilderness Interpretation and Education - Continued strategy-development for key messages and best practices to integrate wilderness into NPS interpretation and education efforts.
The NWLC conducted their annual meeting virtually for the first time in the Council’s history in late 2020. Facilitated by Scott Babcock and Katie Ryan from the Denver Service Center’s Planning Division, this meeting provided members with opportunities to share program and work group updates, discuss emerging topics in wilderness stewardship, and develop the 2021 annual work plan. This upcoming work plan includes six additiona work groups:
  • Climate Change and Wilderness - Developing strategies and guidance related to the effect of climate change in wilderness, with an emphasis on fire management in wilderness and the concepts of refugia and assisted migration.
  • Communicating the Benefits of Wilderness - Developing strategies and messages to promote the wide range of benefits provided by wilderness ranging from social and experiential benefits to ecological benefits.
  • Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion in Wilderness - Developing strategies and messages for making wilderness more inclusive by acknowledging that wilderness includes traditional and ancestorial lands of Indigenous Peoples and Nationals to that wilderness should be a place where everyone is included, represented and has equal access.
  • Minimum Requirement Analysis for Cultural Resource Projects in Wilderness - Identifying important considerations and providing helpful examples of minimum requirement analyses related to cultural resource projects.
  • Nexus Between Minimum Requirement Analysis and NEPA - Updating guidance related to preparing NEPA documents for actions in wilderness and their interrelationship with Minimum Requirement Analyses.
  • Wilderness Stewardship Advocacy - Developing strategies and messages to enhance support, commitment, and accountability for wilderness stewardship at the service-wide level.
The Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute (ALWRI) is an interagency, national research facility located on campus at the University of Montana. Administered by the USFS Forest Service’s Rocky Mountain Research Station (RMRS) and is the only federal research group in the United States dedicated to development and dissemination of knowledge needed steward the 110-million-acre National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). ALWRI has a long a long history of conducting and sharing science in support of the NWPS, as well as collaborating with management, academic, non-profit, tribal, community, and other partners within the US and internationally.

In addition to being administered by the RMRS, ALWRI’s work is responsive to the Interagency Wilderness Policy Council. This collaboration, defined by an interagency agreement among the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, and US Geological Survey, and facilitated through the Interagency Wilderness Steering Committee, helps to ensure ALWRI’s work is relevant to federal wilderness managers.

Staff updates
In 2020, ALWRI welcomed a new director, research social scientist, and research biologist. ALWRI also said farewell to social scientist Alan Watson, who retired in May, after 35 years of federal service.

Dr. Jason Taylor joined ALWRI in July as director after nearly twenty years of federal and local government service. Most recently, he was superintendent at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, an international protected area, and the most visited NPS unit in Alaska. Jason also led the NPS Alaska Region’s Natural Resource Science and Management Team who provided stewardship support for 24 national park units across Alaska. Prior to his time in Alaska, Jason served as Chief of Natural Resource Management and Science at Cape Cod National Seashore.

Dr. Christopher Armatas joined ALWRI in March as a research social scientist after nearly ten years of science collaboration with ALWRI. As a doctoral student at University of Montana, Chris received the Chief’s Wilderness Science Application Award for his efforts to archive 50 years of wilderness research for ALWRI. Chris’s research focuses on human-nature relationships and physical and behavioral capacity determination in wildlands. He also provides science consultations on recreation use and monitoring issues and aims to meet the social science priorities of wilderness and wild and scenic river managers and planners.

Dr. Katherine Zeller joined ALWRI in May as a research ecologist, with over 15 years of experience as a spatial ecologist. It was during Kathy’s first field job in the vast wildlands of Alaska, that she became inspired to protect wild places and the unique resources and benefits they confer. Since this time, Kathy’s research has focused on understanding and quantifying how patterns and processes of human-driven disturbance and climate change affect wildlife populations and large ecological networks. Kathy is particularly interested in modeling connectivity within and among protected lands and providing spatial products and decision-support tools that are useful to managers and stakeholders.

Research Highlights
Global pandemic aside, the team remained extremely productive in 2020 advancing projects, serving both management and science partners and communities, and publishing manuscripts.

Visitor use management – In collaboration with the University of Montana and the NPS Park Planning and Special Studies team, a social science project was initiated to address visitor use management challenges in park wilderness areas. The study plan includes an exhaustive literature review of visitor-use management in wilderness and development of a survey that can address issues shared across park units (e.g., protecting opportunities for solitude), as well as context-specific planning needs (e.g., effective implementation of a visitor permit system). The survey will be implemented in coming years in multiple park units that are actively engaged in wilderness planning efforts. Also in collaboration with the University of Montana, ALWRI advanced a project supporting wilderness use monitoring on the Frank Church – River of No Return Wilderness and Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks (SEKI). For SEKI, analysis of an existing dataset of ranger encounters will inform a future monitoring plans and ensure that methods of monitoring and analyses of monitoring data meet current scientific standards.

Wildfire-driven ecological change – A study involving a collaboration of more than 20 researchers synthesized a growing body of evidence of fire-driven conversion and its causes across western North America. The synthesis, Wildfire-Driven Forest Conversion in Western North American Landscapes, uncovered common themes that scientists are reporting from the borderlands of Mexico and Arizona to the boreal forests of Canada.

Climate connectivity – Climate change will cause many species to shift their ranges. To do so successfully, individuals will need travel pathways that are hospitable to movement. These climate corridors – areas that form the best route between current climate types and where those climates will occur in the future under climate change – will be critical for species persistence. Our new publication, Human land uses reduce climate connectivity across North America, uses climate projections in North America to predict the location of climate corridors and the effects of human land use patterns.

Protected areas and rural communities – Rural amenity migration, or household relocation for quality of life purposes, has occurred for decades and has been particularly pronounced in the American West. ALWRI collaborators published Amenity Migration and Public Lands: Rise of the Protected Areas, an econometric analysis of attributes that influenced migration to rural Western counties from 1980 to 2010 found that while traditional amenities of climate, water area, and regional access were highly associated with migration levels, designated natural amenities of wilderness and national monuments were the most influential public lands for migration to rural Western counties.

Effectiveness of protected areas for wildlife conservation – Wilderness and other protected areas serve as a foundation for most efforts to conserve biodiversity, but protected areas may not optimally located for this purpose. ALWRI and collaborators published An Assessment of Vulnerable Wildlife, Their Habitats, and Protected Areas in the Contiguous United States, the most comprehensive evaluation to date of wildlife species of conservation concern in the contiguous U.S. and how well their habitats overlap with current protected areas. Of all 537 wildlife species of conservation concern, only 62 (11 percent) were well represented in highly protected areas.

Contributing to a Landscape Conservation Design for the Crown of the Continent Ecosystem – The Crown of the Continent covers nearly 18 million acres and is a patchwork of protected areas, tribal lands, wilderness, and private lands spanning the US-Canada border. To facilitate planning and management across these jurisdictions, the Crown Manager’s Partnership, a partnership amongst universities and state, provincial, tribal, and federal agencies in Montana, Alberta, and British Columbia, is developing a Landscape Conservation Design for the entire ecosystem. In cooperation with the NPS, ALWRI initiated a multi- year study with the Crown Partnership to incorporate connectivity into their Conservation Design.
Webinars Hosted by the Wilderness Stewardship Division
In lieu of in-person trainings that, in part, describe the mechanics of wilderness character integration in the NPS, the Wilderness Stewardship Division (WSD) developed a two-part webinar series for 2020. ‘Wilderness in the NPS: An exploration of the Wilderness Stewardship Division’ situated the role of WSD within broader landscape of NPS national offices and programs. This webinar highlighted law and policy that applies to all NPS wilderness areas and support programs, toured the interagency Wilderness Connect website, introduced the interagency Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center and Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, and shared nationally-developed resources to help connect wilderness staff in all levels of the NPS with the information needed for effective and efficient wilderness stewardship.

The second webinar ‘Introduction to Wilderness Character’ emphasized the role of wilderness character preservation in overall wilderness stewardship. Definitions and concepts explaining the tangible and intangible qualities of wilderness character were provided, as well as an overview of the NPS Wilderness Character Building Blocks, which serve as a discrete means of recognizing, documenting, and tracking changes in wilderness character over time.

Each webinar was offered 2-3 times in 2020, with participants ranging from interdisciplinary park staff to staff in regional and national support offices.

Park-Specific Workshops Grow Wilderness Stewardship Awareness
Due to COVID-19, only one park/office-specific wilderness workshop was conducted in 2020, with other workshop requests deferred until 2021. The Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument workshop was jointly held with the Cabeza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge and the US Border Patrol, Ajo Station. A total of 26 staff from the three agencies attended.

Workshop topics included a comprehensive review of the Wilderness Act and NPS wilderness policy, discussion about wilderness character and the Minimum Requirements Analysis concept, and the challenges associated with the park and refuge sharing an international border with Mexico. Attendees appreciated the place-based focus of the training and the opportunity for interdisciplinary and multi-agency dialogue and networking.

Collaboration with the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center
The interagency Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center (Carhart) provides a variety of interagency wilderness trainings, including face-to-face classroom instruction, online courses, blended learning opportunities, and webinars. Tim Devine, NPS Wilderness Stewardship Division - Branch Chief for Training and Development, is stationed at Carhart in Missoula, MT and serves as the NPS representative at Carhart. A variety of training opportunities and resources are available on Wilderness Connect.

Interagency Trainings
Each year, Carhart offers a tailored suite of in-person classroom and online training opportunities to help address wilderness stewardship throughout the interagency National Wilderness Preservation System. In 2020, Carhart provided:

Interagency Webinars
The Carhart team organized and facilitated four webinars throughout the spring and summer to offer training addressing heavy-use issues especially relevant during the Pandemic. A total of 89 NPS staff participated in the four webinars.

  • Wilderness and Accessibility
  • Crawford Path: A sustainable trails case study
  • Leave No Trace: Camping with less waste and no single use plastics
  • Poop in the Woods: Why managing human waste in wilderness matters

Wilderness Blended Learning Opportunities
The Carhart Center offers 37 online courses from individual courses such as the Wilderness Act of 1964 and wilderness planning to suites of courses in Natural Resources and Visitor Use Management 338 NPS staff took advantage of a variety of these online opportunities in 2020. Two new online courses were developed in 2020.

The Water Rights Course highlights the need to engage with water rights issues to preserve wilderness character. This course helps learners understand the basics of how water rights function, the extent of the water right associated with wilderness, how to prioritize work towards safeguarding water rights, and the basic elements of the work required to accomplish these tasks.

The Wilderness Stewardship Planning Framework (WSPF) is a revised course, composed of six different but related components: building a foundation for success, identifying and describing desired conditions, gathering and analyzing information, identifying and selecting indicators, specifying standards, and analyzing and selecting management alternatives. The WSPF is a logical process that assists in understanding, developing, and selecting management action alternatives that ensure the preservation of wilderness character.

The Wilderness Stewardship Certificate Program (WSCP) is a collaborative project between the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center, Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands at Indiana University. WSCP is a professional development program that builds credentials and increases capacity in individuals, agencies, and organizations working with the National Wilderness Preservation System. The Basic Certificate provides a solid understanding of the importance of wilderness protection and the unique application resource protection practices in our National Wilderness Preservation System. Includes four online courses that explore the history, philosophy, and application of wilderness law, regulation, and policy in the United States. Assignments focus on scenario-based problem-solving and application to real-world wilderness management issues.

The Wilderness Management Distance Education Program (WMDEP) is offered by the University of Montana in partnership with the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center. WMDEP offers the only accredited undergraduate and graduate Certificates university courses for a comprehensive study of wilderness management in the country. WMDEP is a valuable tool for understanding the wilderness resource and the issues surrounding its management-includes topics from philosophy and ecology to recreation and planning.

Internal Wilderness Datasheet Gets Refreshed
With the Department of Interior’s transition from Google to Microsoft in early 2020, many NPS internal communication and data management tools had to be migrated to Microsoft applications. The NPS National Wilderness Stewardship Datasheet, a spreadsheet that tracks critical statistics and stewardship information for all NPS wilderness parks, was among these migrated documents. As part of this migration process, the now-Microsoft Excel spreadsheet received a complete organizational overhaul, restructuring the spreadsheet’s display to improve intuitive use and flow. Additionally, all data and information were assessed for accuracy prior to being migrated, making the 2020 spreadsheet as current as possible.

New Intranet Site Created for NPS Wilderness Practitioners
Internal communications take many forms, all aiming to equip stakeholders with the information and resources most critical to do our jobs effectively and efficiently. Following the 2020 Google to Microsoft transition, the Wilderness Stewardship Division created the NPS Wilderness Stewardship Program Intranet Site [viewable only by DOI employees] to promote internal communications for wilderness practitioners in parks, regions, and national offices. Here, users can find relevant law and policy, learn about upcoming training and watch recordings of past offerings, reference the NPS wilderness resource brief library, and more. The site will continue to grow and expand as additional needs are identified, serving as a one-stop-shop for all things wilderness stewardship and management for our NPS wilderness community.

Envisioning Increased Wilderness Accessibility Information
In 2020, the Wilderness Stewardship Division began a two-part process of providing accessibility information relating to wilderness recreation on NPS websites. Content on the Wilderness Stewardship Program Intranet Site will focus on law and policy requirements, management implications, and commonly asked questions for wilderness stewards, such as wheelchair use and service animal best practices. Following completion of the intranet content for managers, focus will shift to the public-facing NPS wilderness website (NPS.gov/wilderness). Here, information will be oriented around the visitor experience, framing content in ways most useful to the public. Both websites will cross-reference other NPS accessibility content and ensure that digital accessibility standards are achieved.

Exploring the Nexus between Wilderness and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion
As the national and international dialogue around diversity, equity, and inclusion expanded in 2020, the NPS Wilderness Stewardship Program began more formal, servicewide conversations reflecting on these themes and their nexus with wilderness. The NPS National Wilderness Leadership Council initiated a work group dedicated to this nexus, while more regional efforts, like those facilitated through the Alaska Region’s Backcountry and Wilderness Advisory Group, began assessing diversity, equity, and inclusion through the lens of more localized stakeholders, context, and need. While much work remains to ensure wilderness reflects the broad spectrum of experiences, connections, and identities of our country and world, 2020 offered increased clarity of the necessity of this work and the inspiration to do so.

Integrating Wilderness into 2020 Servicewide Communication Themes
Throughout the year, the NPS Office of Communication identifies a monthly theme for which parks and support programs are encouraged to develop outreach content. In 2020, these themes addressed many topics like 50 Years of Earth Day (April) to Native American Heritage (November). The Wilderness Stewardship Division worked with the Office of Communications and Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate to integrate wilderness messaging into some the monthly or day-specific themes, including National Park Week, Earth Day, National Public Lands Day, 56th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and Explore Nature’s weekly social media themes. Content was posted on NPS.gov park and subject websites and NPS social media accounts.
Buffalo National River staff receive the Leave No Trace Gold Standard Site Award.
Staff at Buffalo National River receive the Leave No Trace 'Gold Standard Site' Award. Read more about this award in the 'Regional Wilderness Highlights' section below.

NPS photo

All 12 of the Department of Interior (DOI) unified regions have NPS wilderness areas. Clustered regions have an identified Regional Wilderness Coordinator that works closely with wilderness park staff and the WSD. The following are 2020 highlights from each regional cluster:

DOI Unified Region 1
The dynamics of winter storms were ever present at Fire Island National Seashore in January 2020. A Nor'easter moved through the area, resulting in major changes to the beaches along the seashore, especially within the Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness. Dunes were cut and reconfigured and the overall beach elevation was noticeably lowered. This dynamic storm even unearthed an old Model-T that was previously buried and incorporated within a dune many years ago!

In September 2020, Shenandoah National Park staff discovered the wreckage of a plane crash in the Shenandoah Wilderness, less than a mile down the Buck Hollow Trail from Skyline Drive. The plane was a single engine small airplane. The Virginia State Police, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) assisted with the incident. The Superintendent’s office determined through a Minimum Requirements Analysis and decision-making process that wreckage removal was necessary for insurance claims and to ensure debris does not remain within park lands that may pose hazards to visitors and natural and cultural resources.

A contractor using a Sikorsky S-55 helicopter used a long-line load to fly in the required extraction equipment down through the forest canopy inside a 4000-pound capacity bag. The ground crew cut up the wreckage using battery operated saws-alls and wire cutters. The entire wreckage and the plane cargo contents strewn over the area was loaded into several of the bags. The bags were attached to the long line and flown to the landing zone off the park and dropped directly on an 18-foot car trailer for transport to the contractor's facility in Tennessee. The entire operation was completed within six hours with only local visitor closures at the time, minimizing impacts to park visitors.

DOI Unified Region 2
In 2020, Congaree National Park modified its boundary to include a 213-acre tract on the north bank of Running Creek, in the floodplain of the Congaree River. This tract, and other lands added to the park since 1988, are the subject of an ongoing Wilderness Eligibility Assessment scheduled to be completed in 2021. Running Creek winds its way for almost three miles through a flooded forest of cypress and tupelo trees, including a number of very large trees passed over by loggers at the turn of the 20th Century. Acquisition of the Running Creek tract gives visitors a new paddling opportunity and provides boat access to the most remote part of the existing Congaree National Park Wilderness. This year also saw efforts at the park to increase wilderness accessibility for disabled visitors. The park acquired two all-terrain wheelchairs to allow visitors with disabilities to travel on wilderness trails. The park also purchased three sit-on-top kayaks that can be used by visitors of all abilities, including those who cannot get into a standard kayak or canoe.

DOI Unified Regions 3/4/5
In June of 2020, the Leave No Trace Center for Outdoor Ethics announced the designation of Buffalo National River as a Leave No Trace Gold Standard Site, joining an elite group of 12 parks nationwide to earn this honor. The Buffalo National River Wilderness comprises about one-third of the entire park. This is the sixth NPS site to receive this distinction and the first in Arkansas. To be named a Leave No Trace Gold Standard Site, a park must meet the following criteria:
  • Demonstrate successful implementation of Leave No Trace outdoor skills and ethics into management, programming, and outreach efforts at the site.
  • Formally train staff and community partners in Leave No Trace Outdoor Ethics.
  • Include Leave No Trace messaging on signs at trailheads, visitor centers, and campgrounds and in brochures, maps, and other distributed materials for visitors.
  • Facilitate Leave No Trace interpretive programs including ranger talks, campfire events, and trail outings for visitors.
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore began efforts to update the GIS boundaries for the Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness in 2020. Recognizing the wilderness area’s digital mapping was not based on current GIS data standards, staff discussed best practices and the update process with the Wilderness Stewardship Division. These boundary changes were solely for the purpose of adhering to current GIS data standards rather than substantially changing the physical boundary of the wilderness area for other management objectives and will help the park more accurately depict the wilderness areas in maps moving forward. This work will be completed in 2021.

DOI Unified Regions 6/7/8
Wupatki National Monument made progress on its Backcountry Management Plan in 2020, prompting interest in addressing wilderness more specifically. With 96% of the monument managed as eligible wilderness (34,194 acres), the monument now seeks to complete a formal Wilderness Study. The monument preserves nearly 3,000 archeological sites of ancient peoples on the southwestern Colorado Plateau. This landscape is characterized by dramatic geologic landforms, climatic extremes, scarce water, and diverse plant and animal species. The Wilderness Study was identified in the monument’s 2015 Foundation document as a high priority need and recognized wilderness character as a Fundamental Resource and Value. The monument anticipates initiating the Wilderness Study in 2021.

Three years ago, Carlsbad Caverns National Park engaged with representatives from the United States Air Force (USAF) and attended a public scoping meeting for the Notice of Intent to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the Special Use Airspace Optimization Project Holloman Air Force Base. Since this meeting, Carlsbad Caverns National Park was identified as the Cooperating Agency point of contact and served as the lead for this external EIS review. The proposed alternatives included potential impacts of 10,000 low altitude (500 feet above ground level) and supersonic overflights for Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness, Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness, Gila Wilderness, and White Sands National Park. As a result of over three years of interactions with and formal comments provided to the USAF, the NPS was successful in preventing F-16 overflights over NPS wilderness, with the final EIS to be published in January 2021.

Regional Wilderness Executive Committee
The Wilderness Executive Committee for Regions 6/7/8 selected seven new members in 2020 representing a diversity of parks, programs, and backgrounds. These new members filled vacancies in the Superintendent, Park Wilderness Coordinator, Park Planning (new this year!), Interpretation and Education, Public Information, Facilities, and at-large positions. The committee also bid a bittersweet farewell to Keri Nelson, former Committee Chair and Backcountry Wilderness Coordinator for the Southeast Utah Group Parks. Keri was instrumental in guiding the committee’s operations, has put us on solid footing as we move forward, and while we will miss her active participation, it is reassuring to know we have such dedicated wilderness professionals supporting parks in our region! Adapting to the times, the committee’s annual meeting was delayed until the beginning of FY21 and was conducted remotely. The meeting provided an opportunity for Mike Reynolds, Regional Director, to speak to the committee; to hear from and talk with partners from BLM, USFS, and USFWS; and to reflect on the tasks accomplished and goals for the next fiscal year. Additionally, the committee presented its 2020 “Wilderness Champion” award to Samuel Hodges, Canyonlands National Park Backcountry Ranger, to recognize the outstanding contributions Samuel has made to the understanding and preservation of wilderness resources.

DOI Unified Regions 8/9/10/12
Visitation at Joshua Tree National Park has more than double in five years, being within a three-hour drive of 25 million people in southern California. In 2020, park staff took steps to grapple with visitor use management in the Joshua Tree Wilderness. Staff reviewed approaches to rock-based recreation (climbing, bouldering, highlining), backpacking, and trails. With funding from the NPS Environmental Quality Division and FLREA, the park completed one pre-planning workshop in 2020 and awarded a contract to develop a Climbing Management Plan and Environmental Assessment. Pre-planning allowed managers to daylight issues and solutions including 1) tribal consultation to identify ethnographic resources and tribal values that may be impacted by recreational use, 2) managing fixed anchors in wilderness, 3) the need to formalize trails to bouldering and climbing areas, and 4) managing overnight camping to protect resources. Civic engagement on rock-based recreation will begin in Spring 2021. Also on deck is an update to park zones and desired conditions to incorporate appropriate wilderness policy and describe what visitors should expect to experience in the wilderness.

Lassen Volcanic National Park increased its preventative search and rescue program to help visitors make informed decisions about wilderness use during the winter season. The park welcomed two Volunteers-in-Park (VIP) to staff the program. The VIPs perform duties as backcountry ski patrollers, assisting with information and emergency medical service.

Non-native mountain goats were introduced to what is now Olympic National Park in the 1920s, causing significant impacts to the ecosystem, primarily within the park’s 876,447-acre wilderness area. The park’s Mountain Goat Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement, completed in 2018, provides for the removal of all mountain goats from the park and adjacent national forest through capture and translocation to the Cascade Range where mountain goat populations are native and depleted, followed by lethal removal. The park, in partnership with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife and the US Forest Service, is implementing the plan. Aerial capture operations took place in 2018-2020, with ground-based lethal removal using qualified volunteers in Fall 2020. A total of 412 mountain goats have now been removed from the Olympic Peninsula, with 325 successfully released into the Cascades. The active management phase of the project will continue over the next two years.

DOI Unified Region 11
An interdisciplinary team from the Alaska Region established a Wilderness Character Monitoring Forum to create space for practitioners from all of Alaska’s wilderness parks to discuss topics related to wilderness character monitoring. The team met regularly throughout the year to brainstorm measures and protocols that will be most appropriate for Alaska’s remote and diverse wilderness lands. The team also initiated a biometric review of the invasive plant species measure for Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve.

Wilderness stewardship planning for 2.6 million acres of designated wilderness in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve continued in 2020. This planning focuses on updating an existing 1989 Visitor Use Management Plan to address changing visitor interests and preserve the exceptional Glacier Bay Wilderness and backcountry experience.

Kenai Fjords National Park was one of several parks that benefited from the support of the WASO Wilderness Stewardship Division in securing an internship focused on developing the Wilderness Character Building Blocks, including a Wilderness Character Baseline Assessment. Intern Robin McKnight did an extraordinary job collaborating with park and regional staff, researching topics, locating background information, and ultimately writing the draft text, which she then presented to the park team. Her work helped the park develop tools to assure the data collected is managed in a way that can be easily retrievable and managed over long timeframes despite staffing changes or data collection platform shifts.

Alaska Backcountry and Wilderness Advisory Group
The Alaska Backcountry and Wilderness Advisory Group (BWAG) is a regional interdisciplinary team that advises on key wilderness stewardship issues across Alaska. Membership includes representatives from all Alaska wilderness parks and regional office staff. In 2020, the BWAG focused on learning more about the perspectives of underrepresented groups and identified ways to better communicate and coordinate across cultures and across population sectors on topics related to wilderness. Specifically, the team developed a List of Actions Parks Can Consider Taking to Help Make Parks More Inclusive, and it made considerable progress on its Inclusive Wilderness Messaging project. The BWAG also provided support and momentum for parks developing Wilderness Character Monitoring Framework and Baseline Assessments, as well as promoting consistency between parks on day-to-day stewardship efforts.
NPS Wilderness Leadership Council
The NPS Wilderness Leadership Council (NWLC) serves an advisory council to the Director on all matters pertaining to wilderness. The council strives to enhance the agency’s ability to address critical wilderness stewardship issues. Comprised of park, regional, and national staff, this interdisciplinary council represents perspectives from a variety of positions and management levels. Each council member serves a three-year term, with staggered rotation occurring each year.

Current Members:
Danguole Bockus (Ecologist - Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park), Mark Kinzer (Environmental Protection Specialist and Regional Wilderness Coordinator - Region 2), Joan Kluwe (Regional Environmental Coordinator - Region 11), Tobias Miller (Roads and Trails Facility Manager - Great Smoky Mountains National Park), Shauna Potocky (Chief of Interpretation, Education, and Partnerships - Kenai Fjords National Park), Mike Reynolds (Superintendent - Death Valley National Park), Jim Richardson (Superintendent - Lassen Volcanic National Park), Mark Sturm (Superintendent - Katmai National Park and Preserve), Jason Theuer (Cultural Resources Program Manager - Joshua Tree National Park), Dan van der Elst (Wilderness District Ranger - Mount Rainier National Park), PJ Walker (Wilderness Coordinator - Everglades National Park).

Current Liaisons:
Guy Adema (Deputy Associate Director - Natural Resource Stewardship and Science Directorate), Wendy Berhman (Planner - Park Planning and Special Studies Division), Tim Devine (Wilderness Training and Development Specialist - Wilderness Stewardship Division and Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center), Susan Dolan (Cultural Landscapes Program Manager - Cultural Resources, Partnerships, and Science Directorate), Jennifer Flynn (Associate Director - Visitor and Resource Protection Directorate), Lindsay Gillham (Environmental Protection Specialist - Environmental Quality Division), Patrick Gregerson (Program Manager - Park Planning and Special Studies Division), Jay Lusher (Regional Fire Management Officer - Regions 6/7/8), Dan Pulver (Solicitor - Department of Interior), Roger Semler (Program Manager - Wilderness Stewardship Division), Jason Taylor (Director - Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute).

Many thanks to Scott Brown (Southeast Utah Group National Parks), Kelly Chang (Alaska Region), Kirsten Gallo (Inventory and Monitoring Division), Linda Mazzu (Bryce Canyon National Park), Ray O’Neil (Saguaro National Park), and Louis Rowe (Visitor and Resource Protection Directorate) for their prior service on this Council.

Interagency Wilderness Steering Committee
The Interagency Wilderness Steering Committee (IWSC) works collaboratively to improve stewardship across the National Wilderness Preservation System. Comprised of wilderness program leads and USGS science/research support, the IWSC meets monthly to discuss high priority issues and initiatives for interagency wilderness stewardship.

Current Roster
Katie Bliss (Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center), John Dennis (NPS), Peter Keller (BLM), Peter Mali (USFS), Roger Semler (NPS), Nancy Roeper (USFWS), Rudy Schuster (USGS), Jason Taylor (Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute).

Many thanks to and Susan Fox (Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute), Andrea Gehrke (Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center), and Sandy Skrien (USFS) for their prior service on this Committee.

Interagency Wilderness Policy Council
The Interagency Wilderness Policy Council (IWPC) provides national-level wilderness guidance for federal agencies and is comprised of agency Associate/Assistant Directors. The IWPC meets periodically to identify common policy and guidance to be implemented across that National Wilderness Preservation System.

Current Roster
Guy Adema (NPS), Anna Briatico (USFS), Steve Chesterton (USFS), Jen Flynn (NPS), Mark Lambrecth (BLM), Cynthia Martinez (USFWS), Vacant (USGS).

Many thanks to Nikki Haskett (BLM), Carl Lucero (USFS), Louis Rowe (NPS), and Sue Spear (USFS) for their prior service on this Council.
The NPS Wilderness Stewardship Division (WSD) is one of seven divisions in the WASO Visitor and Resource Protection Directorate. WSD assists the Director in implementing national wilderness policy and provides servicewide leadership and subject matter expertise in all aspects of wilderness stewardship and management, including wilderness law, policy, training, and communications.
Organizational chart describing the four positions of the Wilderness Stewardship Division, including Program Manager, Communications and Outreach Specialist, Training and Development Specialist, and Access and Recreation Specialist.
Organizational Chart for the NPS Wilderness Stewardship Division.
Acreages cited reflect best available information based on NPS records. For some parks, wilderness acreages reference updated boundary mapping in GIS that may differ from acreages cited in the designating legislation.

National Park Unit Wilderness Area Acreage
Apostle Islands National Lakeshore Gaylord Nelson Wilderness 33,500
Badlands National Park Badlands Wilderness 64,144
Bandelier National Monument Bandelier Wilderness 23,267
Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park Black Canyon of the Gunnison Wilderness 15,599
Buffalo National River Buffalo National River Wilderness 34,933
Carlsbad Caverns National Park Carlsbad Caverns Wilderness 33,125
Chiricahua National Monument Chiricahua Wilderness 10,290
Congaree National Park Congaree National Park Wilderness 21,700
Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve Craters of the Moon National Wilderness Area 43,243
Cumberland Island National Seashore Cumberland Island Wilderness 9,907
Death Valley National Park Death Valley Wilderness 3,190,455
Denali National Park and Preserve Denali Wilderness 2,146,000
Devils Postpile National Monument Ansel Adams Wilderness 747
Everglades National Park Marjory Stoneman Douglas Wilderness 1,296,500
Fire Island National Seashore Otis Pike Fire Island High Dune Wilderness 1,381
Gates of the Arctic National Park and Preserve Gates of the Arctic Wilderness 7,154,000
Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve Glacier Bay Wilderness 2,664,876
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Great Sand Dunes Wilderness 32,643
Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve Sangre de Cristo Wilderness 40,595
Guadalupe Mountains National Park Guadalupe Mountains Wilderness 46,850
Gulf Islands National Seashore Gulf Islands Wilderness 4,630
Haleakalā Wilderness Haleakalā Wilderness 24,710
Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park Hawai'i Volcanoes Wilderness 123,100
Isle Royale National Park Isle Royale Wilderness 132,018
Joshua Tree National Park Joshua Tree Wilderness 595,364
Katmai National Park and Preserve Katmai Wilderness 3,323,000
Kobuk Valley National Park Kobuk Valley Wilderness 176,000
Lake Clark National Park and Preserve Jay S. Hammond Wilderness 2,592,000
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Black Canyon Wilderness 17,220
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Bridge Canyon Wilderness 7,761
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Eldorado Wilderness 26,250
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Ireteba Peaks Wilderness 29,299
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Jimbilnan Wilderness 18,879
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Muddy Mountains Wilderness 3,521
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Nellis Wash Wilderness 16,423
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Pinto Valley Wilderness 39,173
Lake Mead National Recreation Area Spirit Mountain Wilderness 32,913
Lassen Volcanic National Park Lassen Volcanic Wilderness 79,061
Lava Beds National Monument Lava Beds Wilderness 28,460
Mesa Verde National Park Mesa Verde Wilderness 8,500
Mojave National Preserve Mojave Wilderness 695,200
Mount Rainier National Park Mount Rainier Wilderness 228,480
Noatak National Preserve Noatak Wilderness 5,814,000
North Cascades National Park Stephen Mather Wilderness 638,173
Olympic National Park Daniel J. Evans Wilderness 876,447
Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Organ Pipe Cactus Wilderness 312,600
Petrified Forest National Park Petrified Forest National Wilderness Area 50,260
Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore Beaver Basin Wilderness 11,740
Pinnacles National Park Hain Wilderness 15,985
Point Reyes National Seashore Phillip Burton Wilderness 27,315
Rocky Mountain National Park Indian Peaks Wilderness 2,959
Rocky Mountain National Park Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness 249,126
Saguaro National Park Saguaro Wilderness 70,905
Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks John Krebs Wilderness 39,740
Sequoia-Kings Canyon National Parks Sequoia-Kings Canyon Wilderness 768,222
Shenandoah National Park Shenandoah Wilderness 79,579
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore Sleeping Bear Dunes Wilderness 32,557
Theodore Roosevelt National Park Theodore Roosevelt Wilderness 29,920
Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve Wrangell-St. Elias Wilderness 9,432,000
Yosemite National Park Yosemite Wilderness 704,624
Zion National Park Zion Wilderness 124,406
Collage of wilderness photos including a flowering cactus, hikers on a bluff, a kayak in a bay, and a tent illuminated by a lantern..
2020 NPS Wilderness Report Photo Collage (end of report).

NPS, NPS/Jeff Rose, NPS/K. Miller, NPS/Hannah Schwalbe

Last updated: June 24, 2022

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