Emerging Technologies in Wilderness DISCUSSION

The Society for Wilderness Stewardship's (SWS) Stewardship Committee recently developed a white paper regarding emerging technologies and their intersection with wilderness values, experiences, attitudes,  and management.  The authors frame the central issue as follows:

"The use of new technology in and outside of wilderness has the potential to change how wilderness is perceived and visited as well as how it is managed. The impacts may be positive or negative and could affect the opportunities for a wilderness experience, the biophysical resources of wilderness, and, for some, the very meaning of wilderness. Changes in any of these variables will also influence the future management of wilderness."

Through evaluating trends in technological advance such as the use of unmanned aerial systems, personal locator beacons, cell phones, availability of electronic trip information, user expectation of technologic advancement, commercial use of technology, management paradigms, webcams and virtual hikes, geocaching, light weight equipment, and advanced trail construction methodology, the authors raise the questions:

Does ease of route-finding and availability of electronic trip information make wilderness more accessible, and therefore alter user experience from "the traditional perception..of discovery and the challenge of a wild and natural environment"?  Does it also encourage increased use of fragile travel corridors, especially on non-hardened surfaces?

Do handheld devices, such as cell phones or personal locator beacons, create a false sense of safety, and lead to a decrease in backcountry proficiency in wilderness users, and therefore an increase in user risk and emergency management?

Is there a potential for users perceiving less differentiation between wilderness and non-wilderness due to increase in accessibility and domination of wild landscapes present in wilderness? 

How should the above questions be weighed against the potential positive impact of greater or longer visitation in wilderness arising from advanced gear and recreational equipment?  Though differentiation of wildernss may suffer, does increased accessibility make it more desirable to protect wilderness and the wilderness experience?

How should wilderness managers address these issues?  Policy creation or individual response? Discouragement of technologic use or leverage of technology to communicate with user groups? 

We want to hear from you.  Respond back with your answers to the questions stated above, or give an example of how emerging technology is changing your management approach, visitor experiences, or perception of wilderness.

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The Society for Wilderness Stewardship is a non-profit, charitable organization under the 501 (c)(3) section of the Internal Revenue Code.