Data is current as of 1999. View the Introduction for further limitations of this data.
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The Wilderness Stewardship Reference System (WSRS) provides quick access to legislative, administrative, judicial, and scientific information related to wilderness stewardship. Our goal was to create a thorough, easy-to-use reference system that provides relevant and accurate information for understanding and managing complex wilderness issues. The information contained here is pertinent to all four federal agencies—the USDI Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Park Service, and the USDA Forest Service—responsible for managing the National Wilderness Preservation System. For more information on the WSRS, please choose any of the following topics:
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Other Helpful Links: - Wilderness Law Library - Wilderness Policies and Regulations

What is the Stewardship Reference System?

This website provides quick and easy access to relevant administrative, legislative, judicial, and scientific information on specific wilderness issues. The issues are arranged under six general categories (commercial activities; general administration; legislation, regulations, and policy; motorized use; natural resource stewardship; public values and uses); the categories and issues are explained in greater detail in the Organization section below. The website database contains the following types of information:
  • Federal regulations and agency policies
  • Special provisions in legislation
  • Legislative history
  • Judicial decisions
  • Annotated scientific publications
Clicking on a specific issue within one of the search pages provides immediate access to the information types listed above for that issue.

The Link to Wilderness Law Library contains all laws that have created or modified wilderness in a downloadable format. The Link to Wilderness Policies and Regulations contains a list of links to the full text documents of all the federal agency wilderness regulations and policies.

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Why was the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System Created?

The purpose of the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System is to provide a strong foundation of information to support wilderness stewardship. The writers of the Wilderness Act of 1964 could not have foreseen all of the current issues and challenges facing wilderness and wilderness stewardship, including internal and external threats to wilderness, growth of increasingly complex issues, new knowledge of ecosystems, changes in wilderness philosophy, and increased workloads for fewer managers. Drawing wilderness information from a variety of sources creates a better understanding of the broad intent behind the Wilderness Act and how it has been interpreted. Understanding what the Wilderness Act intended to accomplish will help guide managers in making decisions consistent with both the letter and spirit of the Wilderness Act, even in the face of these new challenges.

This website should be especially useful for people interested in legislative, administrative, and judicial information related to wilderness, but who are not familiar with the intricacies of policy and legal research. It will also be helpful in sorting through the plethora of available scientific information. We hope this reference system will serve as a learning tool to discover what resources are available to help inform and improve wilderness stewardship.

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Scope & Limitations
What is the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System, and What is it Not?

All of the legislative, administrative, and judicial information in the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System meets two criteria: it deals directly and specifically with wilderness, and it fits under one of the issues. The Issues List contains a complete listing of the issues included in the WSRS. The legislation that is cited includes the Wilderness Act of 1964 and subsequent wilderness laws. It does not include legislation such as the Endangered Species Act or the Multiple Use Sustained Yield Act that does not focus on wilderness, although these laws may affect wilderness stewardship. The judicial cases either involve a specific wilderness law or concern activities within a designated wilderness. These do not include cases dealing with wilderness study areas or land adjacent to wilderness. We further narrowed this field by selecting only cases that fit within the issues included in the WSRS.

The legislative, administrative, and judicial information included in the WSRS is relatively narrow in focus, partly as a result of using issues as access points and partly because the information must be specific to be useful. Legislative history information, in particular, is subject to interpretation and needs to be used with caution. Most importantly, users of the WSRS must always keep in mind that the principles and prohibitions of the Wilderness Act of 1964 frame all of the information included here. While we strived to be as thorough as possible within the realm of laws, policies, regulations, and court cases, these texts make up only one facet of the decision-making process. The information here should supplement, not replace, the ecological, social, and administrative factors included in an informed decision. The information in this website should not be used as a substitute for seeking legal counsel.

The scientific information contained in the WSRS does not always address wilderness directly; however, each study is relevant to wilderness stewardship. For instance, published fire behavior information is necessary for understanding fire behavior within wilderness. The scientific literature presented for a specific issue is not comprehensive. Rather, these articles provide an overview of key scientific literature that relates to understanding and managing the issue in wilderness. Recent literature is emphasized over older literature because newer papers tend to cite important older works. A few older classic papers are included where they provide the best source for important concepts. Region-, site-, and species-specific information are generally excluded because such information would detract from our goal of providing a manageable outline of key general references. Such references are included only as illustrations of pertinent concepts. We generally omitted papers that were highly technical or jargon-filled in favor of others that seemed more accessible to a general audience. Although the list is not comprehensive, the sources cited here represent a significant portion of the wilderness-related literature for each issue.

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Who was the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System Developed For?

The WSRS is intended to be useful to a wide range of people interested in wilderness and its stewardship:
  • Wilderness managers at all levels of decision-making
  • Other agency specialists whose activities may be influenced by the Wilderness Act of 1964
  • Members of the public concerned with wilderness stewardship
  • Students
  • Academic professionals

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How is the Information in the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System Structured?

The heart of the legislative, administrative, and judicial information lies in the quotations from various documents. We collected them so you can go directly to information relevant to your issue rather than thumbing through stacks of agency manuals and legal documents. Think of it as someone looking up a topic in a book index for you and then handing you the useful pages. Similarly, the scientific references have been annotated to clarify their importance for wilderness stewardship.

There are several different ways to search for this information, and you must choose one of these methods:
  • One Issue - the information is organized into general "categories" which are further divided into specific "issues." For example, if you were interested in the issue of snowmobile use in wilderness, you would first look in the general category of "Motorized Uses" and then select "snowmobiles," and find pertinent quotations from legislation, judicial cases, regulations, policies, and annotated papers from the scientific literature. The advantage of this search method is quick access to the information if you know exactly what issue you are interested in. The disadvantage is that if the issue you are interested in is not on the WSRS Issues List, you will need to search among the different categories to hopefully find an issue that is close to the one you're interested in.
  • All Issues - all of the information that is available for every issue is displayed in a single table. The advantage of this search method is that it shows all the issues and all the types of information that are available. The disadvantage is that you must scan the entire table for the information you're interested in.
  • By Keyword - you may type in any word to search for all of the information that is available based on a search of that keyword. The advantage of this search method is that it is totally flexible, allowing you to search the website's database for any word or combination of words. The disadvantage is that the word you are searching on may not return any information.
The list of issues began as brainstorming sessions involving researchers from the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, agency personnel, and members of conservation groups. This larger list was pared down to issues that were specifically addressed by the information types included in the WSRS (regulations, policies, legislation, judicial decisions, and scientific information). For example, rock bolting (a recent and contentious issue) was not included as an issue because there was no specific information related to it. The Issues List contains a complete listing of the issues included in the WSRS. Whereas the legislative, administrative, and judicial information is considered complete, the scientific information has not yet been completed. Further scientific issues will be developed as funding is secured.

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Types of information
What Types of Information Does the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System Provide?

Listed below are brief descriptions of the types of information as they appear on the website. The Information Sources link gives complete explanations of the types of information, examples of how they may be used in wilderness stewardship, and a list of sources.
  • Code of Federal Regulations contains legally enforceable rules written by administrative agencies as the first step to implement a legislative mandate.
  • Agency Policies are guidelines written by an agency to govern the behavior of its employees.
  • Special Provisions refer to legislative language in various wilderness laws that deviate from the definition of wilderness in the Wilderness Act of 1964, including parts of that law itself.
  • Legislative History is the record of Congressional discussion of a law which occurred before that law was passed.
  • Judicial Decisions are summaries of court cases addressing wilderness stewardship issues.
  • Annotated Scientific Publications are original annotations from published journals, books, conference proceedings, and federal agency or non-governmental publications, largely compiled from the Leopold Institute's Linking Wilderness Research and Management series.

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Who Created the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System?

The WSRS was created by the interagency Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute and the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center. The people who created the WSRS were: Shannon Meyer, who holds a Master's degree in environmental policy and law from the University of Montana, envisioned and developed this reference system for the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute and the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center. She worked with agency employees, conservation organizations, and academics as part of the information gathering process. Sarah Heim-Jonson wrote the summaries for the judicial decisions as part of her master's thesis, Wilderness Case Law for Nonlawyers (University of Montana, 1999). Beth Peluso wrote the introductory sections, and Beth Peluso and Alicia Ozanich edited and checked the accuracy of the legislative, administrative, and judicial information. Jim Condon and Chuck Besancon designed the initial database for website implementation. Suzanne Lingle created the graphic design for this website. Lisa Eidson designed the functionality of the different WSRS sections, complete with dynamic web programming. This Wilderness Stewardship Reference System, from inception to completion, was under the guidance and supervision of Peter Landres and Vita Wright of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, and Sue Matthews of the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center.

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What is the Future of the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System, and How Can You Offer Feedback?

It is our intent to review and update the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System annually or semiannually, pending funding and support. We have made every effort to create a reference system that is as thorough and as accurate as possible, but we realize that new dilemmas and shifts in information constantly occur. This is where we ask for your help. We encourage your feedback on how the Wilderness Stewardship Reference System would better serve your needs, as well as other issues you would like to see included. Please send your comments to

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