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Citation for publication number 914:
Naficy, Cameron E., Keeling, Eric G., Landres, Peter, Hessburg, Paul F., Veblen, Thomas T., Sala, Anna. (2016). Wilderness in the 21st Century: A Framework for Testing Assumptions about Ecological Intervention in Wilderness Using a Case Study of Fire Ecology in the Rocky Mountains. Journal of Forestry. 114(3), 384-395.
Leopold Publication Number 914
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     Changes in the climate and in key ecological processes are prompting increased debate about ecological restoration and other interventions in wilderness. The prospect of intervention in wilderness raises legal, scientific, and values-based questions about the appropriateness of possible actions. In this article, we focus on the role of science to elucidate the potential need for intervention. We review the meaning of “untrammeled” from the 1964 Wilderness Act to aid our understanding of the legal context for potential interventions in wilderness. We explore the tension between restraint and active intervention in managing wilderness and introduce a framework for testing ecological assumptions when evaluating restoration proposals. We illustrate use of the framework in the restoration of fire regimes and fuel conditions in ponderosa pine and mixed-conifer forests of the US Rocky Mountains. Even in this relatively well-studied example, we find that the assumptions underlying proposed interventions in wilderness need to be critically evaluated and tested before new, more intensive management paradigms are embraced. Management and Policy Implications: Policy and management of wilderness areas are guided by the US Wilderness Act and by agency management plans. Although the Act emphasizes the importance of preserving untrammeled conditions in wilderness, some believe that more intensive management intervention is necessary in wilderness in the coming century. We stress the need to increase the role of science in this debate. Our framework makes the following three general recommendations: operationalize broadly stated management goals; test the assumptions used to justify intervention; and weigh the benefits and harms of intervention. Specifically, we emphasize the need to test assumptions about the historical range of variability, present ecological conditions, mechanisms responsible for and threats to the present conditions, ecosystem responses to threats, and future climate scenarios. Using a case study as an example, we recommend that assumptions that often underlie proposed interventions in wilderness be critically evaluated and tested before new, more intensive management paradigms are embraced.