Prioritizing Proposed Wilderness Areas for Wilderness Designation
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The National Wilderness Preservation System protects especially pristine public lands that have been designated by Congress as wilderness. But wilderness areas are designated without consideration of existing protected areas or conservation needs. This study uses a Geographic Information System to rank the ecological urgency of proposed wilderness areas (n=631) so that future wilderness designations can be better informed by science. Results indicate that most proposed wilderness areas are in ecosystems that are already well-protected. But a few proposals would add substantial area to currently underrepresented ecosystems. The highest-ranking proposals are Beaver Creek Wilderness Study Area (a Bureau of Land Management unit in Colorado) and Assateague Island National Seashore Recommended Wilderness (a National Park Service unit in Maryland) because they are each located in virtually unprotected regions of the United States. The data acquisition process for this study uncovered management problems within the federal agencies such as a fear of the public and overall lack of interagency collaboration. A review of the lessons learned highlights ways to improve systematic conservation planning at the federal level. Data standardization within and between agencies is a necessary step toward improved communication. Furthermore, federal land management agencies need to increase the quality and quantity of publicly available data regarding protected areas. Decision-making in the federal agencies has been extremely localized, but a new initiative in the Department of Interior seeks to change that by implementing broad-scale and science-based Landscape Conservation Cooperatives (LCCs). The new LCCs may be the appropriate arena for employing the systematic wilderness stewardship principles outlined here.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
systematic conservation planning
Bureau of Land Management
National Park Service
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