Dr. Chad P. Dawson is a Professor Emeritus of Recreation Resources Management and former Chair of the faculty of Forest and Natural Resources Management at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forest in Syracuse, NY. He has worked in teaching and research related to the visitor management and wilderness management at SUNY-ESF since 1989. Previously, he worked 15 years as an educator and researcher at Cornell University and the University of Minnesota. Dr. Dawson is the Managing Editor of the International Journal of Wilderness and co-author with John Hendee of Wilderness Management: Stewardship and Protection of Resources and Values (2009; 4th edition), Fulcrum Publishing, Golden, CO.
In recent decades, the word wilderness has been used to designate, define, label, or market many public and private land areas and programs—it has various connotations and denotations. In fact, at times, it is difficult for the public to distinguish between what is implied to be wilderness and what is so designated by law. On one hand, some tourism marketing materials use the word wilderness to imply a state of naturalness and, thereby, sell the prospective nature-oriented tourist on a lodging accommodation or travel destination. For example, the Disney Wilderness Preserve was established in 1992 through the cooperative actions of The Walt Disney Company, Greater Orlando Aviation Authority, The Nature Conservancy, and several public agencies, but the management and allowable types of use do not support wilderness character or experiences. On the other hand, the public has grown to appreciate and use the legislatively designated National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) in the United States that now includes more than 107 million acres (43.3 million ha) since the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964. The concept and use of primitive and wilderness areas goes back well before 1964 and is part of the American heritage and experience.
Protected areas labeled as wilderness exist in various types of ownership, from federal and state lands to private and tribal lands. An example of a private land area managed as wilderness is the Grandfather Mountain area in North Carolina (Johnson 1996). An outstanding example of a tribal wilderness area is the Mission Mountains Tribal Wilderness on the Flathead Indian Reservation in westcentral Montana (McDonald 1995). State-owned wilderness areas is a category of wilderness that can be confusing and, at times, misleading as to whether an area is a wilderness in name only or by objective criteria and legal designation. The state of South Carolina has the Mountain Bridge Wilderness, which is part of Jones Gap State Park and managed as a park. The state of Tennessee has the Bridgestone/Firestone Centennial Wilderness provided by a private donation and managed by the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, but it does not have administrative or statutory protection as a wilderness and does not appear to be managed as a wilderness. We recognize that there are many types of protected areas that are similar to wilderness, but may be labeled by other names such as nature areas. For example, some Tennessee-state areas formerly known as “pocket wilderness” areas have been renamed as “state nature areas.”
Several studies have investigated state legislation to protect state-owned lands as wilderness over the last three decades and have reported on the status of those efforts and the development of wilderness management programs (Cutler 1971; Trumbly and Gray 1984; Stankey 1984; Peterson 1996; Dawson and Thorndike 2002). The purpose of this study was to conduct an assessment of the state-designated wilderness areas and related programs (e.g., wild areas, wildlands, etc.) in the United States and provide a summary of the wilderness or wilderness-type programs that included state-owned lands that were legislatively or administratively designated and are similar in concept to the national legislative definition of wilderness.
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