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An evaluation of wilderness character as a framework for monitoring and measuring wilderness in Rocky Mountain National Park




Leslie, Colin Robert, author
Newman, Peter, advisor
Pettebone, David, committee member
Schultz, Courtney, committee member

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The Wilderness Act of 1964 (Pub.L. 88-577) provided for the statutory designation of wilderness areas in the United States through the creation of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS). While the Wilderness Act specifies requirements for wilderness designation, it does not specify how agencies should manage wilderness areas, other than to "[preserve] the wilderness character of the area." Over the last 50 years a number of frameworks and methods for managing and assessing wilderness have been proposed. Recently, Wilderness Character Monitoring (WCM) has emerged as a promising framework for quantify the status and trend of wilderness character within management areas. While interagency efforts have been largely successful in establishing the WCM framework across all four managing agencies, few studies have been conducted evaluating the process of WCM, particularly as it relates to the broader goals of wilderness management. This thesis explores the potential for wilderness character concepts to inform wilderness management through the presentation of four chapters. The first chapter provides an introduction to the concept of wilderness character including a brief history of wilderness, its associated values and some management challenges. Chapters two and three present independent manuscripts that seek to better understand wilderness character from two different scales of analysis: conceptual overview and measurement of a specific wilderness value, respectively. Chapter two (first manuscript) evaluates wilderness character by applying the WCM framework to the newly established Rocky Mountain National Park Wilderness. The introduction and methods sections provide an overview of the study area, the WCM monitoring structure, and additional evaluative criteria used for the selection of measures. Selected measures are then presented in the results section, followed by a discussion of insights and considerations gained from both the final list of measures as well as the selection process itself. Chapter three (second manuscript) evaluates one discrete value or measure of wilderness: soundscapes. Specifically, this study examines the potential of Observer Based Source Identification Logging (OBSIL) to inform soundscapes assessments in wilderness by measuring audibility metrics. The two metrics used are a) percent time audible (PTA), which represents the extent within a given timeframe a particular source is audible; and b) the noise-free interval (NFI), which represents the length (usually average) that no non-natural sounds are audible. Findings from this study indicate both a high potential of OBSIL to inform soundscape assessments and provides several insights that support the need for better understanding of the wilderness acoustical environment. Chapter four concludes this thesis with a discussion of insights gained regarding the potential of WCM in the larger context of wilderness stewardship.


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National Park Service
Rocky Mountain National Park
wilderness character


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