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Field Monitoring Protocols

This project is supported by:The National Forest Foundation

The Cinnabar Foundation

The USDA Forest Service



College of Forestry and Conservation

Volunteer for Conservation

Thanks to each of our 70 volunteers who helped monitor all of the trails in the Anaconda Pintler and Welcome Creek Wildernesses!

Volunteers in the Backcountry

During summer 2013, the Wilderness Institute’s Citizen Science Program took small groups of volunteers into the Anaconda Pintler and Welcome Creek Wildernesses.  70 volunteers spent over 1900 hours documenting every weed infestation detectable from the trail, inventorying campsites, signs, system and non-system trails, human encounters and wildlife sign.  Data is currently being analyzed, and reports summarizing and mapping measured attributes are in progress and will be available this winter.

Wilderness managers need our help! 
Join us in the Selway Bitterroot Frank Church River-of-no-Return in 2014

The Selway Bitterroot and Frank Church Wilderness Areas form the largest tract of wilderness in the lower 48 states, and constitute a flagship for the National Wilderness Preservation System. Over the last decade, declining budgets, dynamic wildfire and weather, and an aging and expansive trail system have impeded wilderness managers’ ability to meet public expectations for maintaining the existing trail systems. The result is declining trail conditions that restrict public access to large portions of the wilderness complex.  Regional wilderness managers have asked for our assistance to help address this issue. 
In 2014 we will partner with the Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation and National Forest wilderness managers to help maintain trails and secure public access to these spectacular wild landscapes!  Join us for 4 to 7-day trips into the backcountry and learn about invasive species, native plants, monitoring methods, and the natural history of this vast wilderness complex.  Backcountry experience is helpful but not necessary. Dinners are provided daily, and transportation is available from Missoula as well as selected towns in study vicinity.  Volunteers receive t-shirts and prizes.  Trip dates will be posted in spring 2014. For more information or to be added to our email interest list, contact the Wilderness Institute at 406-243-5361 or

Project Summary

With support from the National Forest Foundation, the Cinnabar Foundation, and USDA Forest Service, the Wilderness Institute organizes a citizen monitoring and restoration project each summer.  This is a partnership project involving local community volunteers, the Forest Service, and the University of Montana.  Community volunteers work with trained field leaders to monitor selected elements of wilderness character, conduct recreation site inventories, and carry out stewardship and restoration efforts in backcountry areas.  In the last nine years, this program has worked with over 350 volunteers to conduct monitoring and restoration in seven Wilderness Areas and all seven of Montana’s congressionally designated Wilderness Study Areas.  Project outcomes include detailed inventories of wilderness character, invasive plants and recreation sites; treatment of invasive species and restoration of native plants (through hand-pulling); and increased agency and community capacity for citizen stewardship of public lands. The Wilderness Institute’s community-based monitoring generates relevant data for forest managers and interested community members, and broadens and promotes informed civic engagement in wilderness stewardship.

Wilderness Character Monitoring

Both the Wilderness Act of 1964 and Montana’s Wilderness Study Area Act (1977) require that land management agencies maintain wilderness character in wilderness areas as it existed at the time of designation.  The purpose of monitoring wilderness character is to improve wilderness stewardship by providing managers and the public a tool to evaluate how wilderness character is changing over time and how stewardship actions impact wilderness character.  In collaboration with local NGOs and community groups, starting in 2009, the Wilderness Institute partnered with the Forest Service to design citizen-friendly field-based wilderness character monitoring protocols, and then implemented these protocols across all seven of Montana’s congressionally designated Wilderness Study Areas (Sapphire, Blue Joint, West Pioneer, Ten Lakes, Hyalite Porcupine Buffalo Horn, Big Snowy Mountains and Middle Fork Judith River).  The resulting monitoring reports are available here>>.  In 2013, the Wilderness Institute’s citizen monitoring program implemented this protocol in the Anaconda Pintler and Welcome Creek Wilderness Areas, and in 2014 we will conduct critical monitoring and stewardship work in the Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Wilderness.  More information on wilderness character monitoring is available from the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute and at

For more information, to sign up, or to be on the Wilderness Institute’s citizen scienceVolunteer
contact list:

Email or call 406.243.5361

To learn more about Montana's Wilderness Study Areas, visit

Learn more about the Citizen Science program>>