Wilderness and Wild and Scenic Rivers Evaluations

Wilderness Inventory and Evaluation

As part of the revision process, the forests are required to identify and evaluate lands that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System and determine whether to recommend to the Chief of the Forest Service any such lands for wilderness designation.

July 2016 Update: We are sharing new information about the evaluation step (Step 2) and heading into the analysis step (Step 3). No decisions have been made and we are open to public input prior to releasing a draft forest plan and draft Environmental Impact Statement.

The process to identify lands that may be suitable for wilderness includes four steps as described in this powerpoint presentation:

  • Step 1: Inventory: Identify and inventory all lands that may be suitable for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.


  • Step 2: Evaluate: Evaluate the wilderness characteristics of each area based on a given set of criteria.
    • In July 2016, the Nantahala and Pisgah NFs shared the results of the evaluation step. As required by Forest Service planning policy, all areas included in the inventory were evaluated for their wilderness characteristics. The primary function of the evaluation step is to evaluate the wilderness characteristics of the lands in the inventory, using criteria set forth in the Wilderness Act of 1964. Public input, geospatial analysis, and Forest Service knowledge of areas was used to inform the identification of areas or portions of areas that have wilderness characteristics. Read the evaluation of areas.


Wilderness Video Screenshot

Click the video to view it on our Facebook Page.


  • Step 3: Analysis: Determine which areas to further analyze in the National Environmental Policy Act process.
    • Based on the evaluation and public input, the Forest Service will identify specific areas, or portions of areas, to carry forward as recommended wilderness in one or more alternatives in the plan and analyze the effect of a recommendation on other forest resources. Not all areas are required to be analyzed in an alternative. In July 2016, the Forest Service released an initial identification of areas to be analyzed in one or more alternatives; however, this is draft and expected to change based on further input. The final identification of areas to be analyzed will be released as part of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement released in Spring 2017.


  • Step 4: Recommend: Decide which areas, if any, to recommend for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
    • Once the forest plan is finalized, the final environmental impact statement is released and a record of decision is signed (estimated date for a final plan is the end of 2017), the Forest Supervisor may recommend suitable lands for National Wilderness Preservation System designation to the Chief of the Forest Service. Such a recommendation may then be forward to the Secretary of Agriculture, and ultimately to Congress, for their consideration and possible designation. Congress has reserved the authority to make final decisions on wilderness designation.

Additional resources:

ArcGis Screenshot

•    Forest Service Handbook requirements: FSH 1909.19, Chapter 70


Wild and Scenic Rivers

Additionally, the Forest Service must identify eligibility of rivers for inclusion in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. The Forest Service is contining to work on the evaluation based on public input received in Fall and Winter 2016. Updated information is expected in late Summer 2016.Wild and Scenic Rivers Presentation (October 2015) (View this first)