Wilderness Character: A Concept

Wilderness itself conjures up images of numerous things: images include of being a pioneer of a new area, a land that one is able to see and experience natural processes first hand, or perhaps, just get out and experience some time away from our increasingly busy lives. Regardless of the reason we choose to spend time in wilderness it’s important for us to also recognize that these qualities are tied to decisions and actions that resource managers make in both direct and indirect ways.  In essence, these reasons for seeking out wilderness and the associated tasks with managing it as resource make up wilderness character.  

The concept of wilderness character comes from the language in the Wilderness Act of 1964.  While monitoring for wilderness character is in the beginning stages of implementation of the forest service.   The mandated qualities are influenced by decisions and actions taking place on the forest.  These actions and decision are exactly what I’ve been seeking out information on these last few weeks on the Carson National Forest.  In order to best assess and develop what goes into these assessments has been a process of sifting through documentation on the forest plan(s), meeting with specialists and sometimes seeing the forest first hand. In the end, the forest will have baseline assessments for both the newly designated Columbine-Hondo Wilderness and one of the older wilderness areas, Wheeler Peak Wilderness. 

The bulk of my time thus far has been spent building relationships with forest staff, orienting myself to the forest, and discussing with staff projects and land management actions that have taken place on the forest either in or out of the wilderness.  When actions take place inside, or effect things in the wilderness I then will identify and look to see where that particular action matches up with the required assessment measures in the draft technical guide on Wilderness Character Monitoring in the Forest Service.

Perhaps, what’s so interesting about this work is that it relies on the concept that Wilderness isn’t a single resource issue with one special person devoted to understanding it. As a result, the process of selecting measures is one that requires face time with specialists who are familiar with the forest and the various management actions and stewardship actions.

In the coming weeks, I will be working with specialists to prioritize measures and decide on which measures are best applied to each respective indicator and quality.  In addition, I aim to get out and explore more of wilderness to help inform and identify the narrative portion of the reports as well as getting a chance to witness natural processes first hand.   


Dave Jacobs, Region 3 Wilderness Fellow for the Columbine-Hondo and Wheeler Peak Wilderness Areas.


Dave cultivated his orientation to the natural world in the Green Mountains of Vermont.  His travels and work have taken him to work in mid-coast Maine, the backcountry of Olympic National Park and most recently the Cumberland Plateau of East Tennessee.  His constantly evolving sense of adventure keeps him busy on his mountain bike, road bike, skis; behind the camera lens; or thumbing through a field guide. When he’s not adventuring, Dave can be found reading books, bird watching, or making a deliciously strong cup of coffee.   Most recently Dave completed his master’s degree in conservation biology at Green Mountain College. In this graduate work his thesis focused on mapping and inventorying the plant communities of the Tennessee River Gorge.  Above all else Dave enjoys taking in a good day outside.



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