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How Wilderness Benefits You

A collage of wilderness images showing direct and indirect wilderness benefits.
Subsistence use of wilderness is an example of a direct value, while bequest to future generations is an indirect value.
Wilderness embues many benefits and "meaning and values for wilderness are created through historical, cultural, and political experiences over time" [1 p. 114]. The Wilderness Act of 1964 defines wilderness as lands that may contain ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic or historical value. But what about other values?

Direct vs. Indirect Values

Wilderness values can be generally comprised of both direct and indirect values. Direct values include those benefits derived from direct contact with wilderness such as recreation or education. Indirect values include existence, bequest, option, and intrinsic benefits, in addition to many listed above. Existence values are those benefits derived from simply knowing wilderness exists independent of visitation or any other type of direct use. Bequest values are being able to pass wilderness on to your children and grandchildren. Option values represent opportunities for you to enjoy both direct and indirect benefits from wilderness in the future. Intrinsic values are wilderness qualities that exist regardless of human existence. In some cases, values can be complex, encompassing both direct and indirect aspects, as with economic value.

Public Opinions About Wilderness Values

Public opinion surveys have helped to define these benefits and values. Overall, when compared to previous decades, more people consider the various direct and indirect benefits of wilderness to be increasingly important. In fact, recent data from the National Survey on Recreation and the Environment indicate that protecting air quality, water quality, wildlife habitat, unique wild plant and animal species, and bequest to future generations are all consistently rated as the top five most important benefits of wilderness[1][2]. Most Americans, whether urban or rural, also ascribed high importance to six additional benefits including the scenic beauty of wild landscapes, the knowledge that wilderness is being protected (existence value), the choice to visit wilderness at some future time (option value), the opportunity for wilderness recreation experiences, preserving nature for scientific study, and spiritual inspiration[2].


  1. Cordell, H. K., Bergstrom, J. C. & Bowker, J. M. (2005). The Multiple Values of Wilderness. State College, PA: Venture Publishing, Inc.
  2. Cordell, H. K., Beltz, C. J., Fly, J. M., Mou, S. & Green, G. T. (2008). How Do Americans View Wilderness? Retrieved on July 16, 2009.

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