Year of Award


Document Type


Degree Type

Master of Science (MS)

Degree Name

Environmental Studies

Department or School/College

Environmental Studies Program

Committee Chair

Neva Hassanein

Commitee Members

Dan Spencer, Peter Landres


adaptation, climate change, management, monitoring, stewardship, wilderness


University of Montana


As scholars debate whether climate change warrants more or less active management in wilderness, this baseline study identifies what is happening on the ground. This study focuses attention on National Park Service units that administer designated wilderness. Representatives who had been identified by the superintendents from each of these units responded to an online survey (with a 94% response rate). Respondents reported on their concerns, monitoring, and management projects driven by climate change happening in their wilderness. Respondents also discussed whether and how these activities affected wilderness character. This is the first study to characterize the response to climate change in wilderness at a national scale. A majority of park units are conducting stewardship activities in wilderness to address and track the effects of climate change. Invasive species and fire are receiving much attention in the process. As park units respond to climate change in wilderness they cite perceived improvements to the natural quality of wilderness character. They also indicate that these activities harm the natural quality of wilderness character along with a suite of other qualities that have been left out of the academic discussion regarding appropriate management responses. The findings thus provide basic information to NPS administrators about what is happening in the field. They also give those discussing appropriate stewardship responses the fabric within which to sew their arguments. Finally, this study explores lessons learned from climate change adaptation in wilderness that may be applicable to adaptation activities happening elsewhere.



© Copyright 2013 Katherine E. Nelson