Wilderness Inventory and Evaluation

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.

We have received considerable input from a wide range of interests on the topic of designated wilderness. We have heard the range of pros and cons from the public view and are considering all of that input as we consider which areas to recommend in our draft alternatives.

Wilderness areas are selected based on criteria such as preserving opportunities for primitive travel and recreation along with scientific, educational and social values. Activities restricted in wilderness include motorized and mechanized equipment and transport such as mountain biking, along with restrictions on commercial permits and large groups. The areas (if any) that we recommend for wilderness are not likely to be the areas that would be generating timber receipts, because typically these lands are largely inaccessible and not areas that we have historically managed for timber.

2017 Wilderness Mythbuster 

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 complete the evaluation of the areas.
    • Considerable public feedback was provided on the 2016 Evaluation Report, and the report has been updated to reflect those comments where appropriate. Read the updated 2017 Evaluation Report.


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. Which areas to analyze in alternative received considerable public feedback, and we will use this information to develop alternatives as we look at the broader management of the Forests. The final identification of areas to be analyzed will be released as part of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement.


  • Step 4: Recommend: Decide which areas, if any, to recommend for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System.
    • Once the forest plan is finalized and the final environmental impact statement is signed,  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.


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