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Alan E. Watson

Supervisory Research Social Scientist

790 East Beckwith Avenue
Missoula, MT 59801
Contact Alan E. Watson

Current Research

Alan's research interests focus on understanding and reporting about human aspects of wilderness use and values. Alan draws upon his education in ecological psychology, environmental psychology, social psychology, sociology, forestry, and natural resource management at Virginia Polytechnic Institute & State University to study and describe human relationships with wilderness. Alan is the Research Social Scientist with the Leopold Institute and on the Executive Editor for Science for the International Journal of Wilderness.

Research Interests

Model the effects of personal and social meanings on landscape level forest policy decisions, role of wilderness in larger social and ecological systems, conflicting personal and social meanings and values associated with wilderness, monitoring recreation use and experiential aspects of wilderness use, understanding personal relationships with place, wilderness and activity among nonconforming, contentious uses of wilderness, personal and societal response to recreation fees for wilderness use segmenting the tourist community based upon commitment to protecting wilderness character, the role of traditional ecological knowledge in wilderness protection, the relationship between the public and public lands and contributors to trust


  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Bachelors, 1978
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Masters, 1980
  • Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Ph.D., 1983
  • Featured Publications


    Armatas, Christopher A.; Campbell, Robert M.; Watson, Alan E.; Borrie, William T.; Christensen, Neal; Venn, Tyron J., 2018. An integrated approach to valuation and tradeoff analysis of ecosystem services for national forest decision-making
    Cooke, Brian; Watson, Alan E.; Thurow, Russ F., 2018. Research runs through it: A fresh look at wild and scenic rivers
    Chesterton, Steve; Watson, Alan E., 2017. A watershed moment for river conservation and science
    McBride, Brooke Balauf; Sanchez-Trigueros, Fernando; Carver, Stephen J; Watson, Alan E.; Stumpff, Linda Moon; Matt, Roian; Borrie, William T., 2016. Participatory Geographic Information Systems as an organizational platform for the integration of traditional and scientific knowledge in contemporary fire and fuels management
    Dawson, Chad P.; Cordell, Ken; Watson, Alan E.; Ghimire, Ramesh; Green, Gary T., 2016. The US Wilderness Managers Survey: Charting a path for the future
    Ghimire, Ramesh; Cordell, Ken; Watson, Alan E.; Dawson, Chad; Green, Gary T., 2015. Results From the 2014 National Wilderness Manager Survey
    Dvorak, Robert G.; Borrie, William T.; Watson, Alan E., 2013. Personal wilderness relationships: Building on a transactional approach
    Trosper, Ronald L.; Clark, Fred; Gerez-Fernandez, Patrica; Lake, Frank; McGregor, Deborah; Peters, Charles M.; Purata, Silvia; Ryan, Teresa; Thomson, Alan; Watson, Alan E.; Wyatt, Stephen, 2012. North America [Chapter 5]
    Dvorak, Robert G.; Watson, Alan E.; Christensen, Neal; Borrie, William T.; Schwaller, Ann, 2012. The Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness: Examining changes in use, users, and management challenges
    Watson, Alan E.; Stumpff, Linda Moon; Meidinger, Jennifer, 2012. Traditional wisdom and climate change: Contribution of wilderness stories to adaptation and survival
    Dvorak, Robert G.; Borrie, William T.; Watson, Alan E., 2011. Threats and changes affecting human relationships with wilderness: Implications for management
    Carver, Steve; Watson, Alan E.; Waters, Tim; Matt, Roian; Gunderson, Kari; Davis, Brett, 2009. Developing computer-based participatory approaches to mapping landscape values for landscape and resource management
    Watson, Alan E.; Matt, Roian; Waters, Tim; Gunderson, Kari; Carver, Steve; Davis, Brett, 2009. Mapping tradeoffs in values at risk at the interface between wilderness and non-wilderness lands
    Ritter, Sharon; Jones, Greg; Watson, Alan E.; McCaughey, Ward; Harrington, Mick; Zwolak, Rafal; Foresman, Kerry; Crone, Elizabeth; Pearson, Dean E.; Ortega, Yvette K.; Loeffler, Dan, 2008. ECO-Report - Finding common ground: Montana Forest Restoration Committee
    Knotek, Katie; Watson, Alan E.; Borrie, William T.; Whitmore, Joshua G.; Turner, David, 2008. Recreation visitor attitudes towards management-ignited prescribed fires in the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex, Montana
    Liljeblad, Adam; Watson, Alan E.; Borrie, William T., 2007. A look inside the dynamics of trust: A guide for managers
    Winter, Patricia; Absher, James; Watson, Alan E., 2007. Assess and enhance public trust
    Knotek, Katie; Watson, Alan E.; Christensen, Neal, 2007. Diverse recreation experiences at Denali National Park and Preserve
    González-Cabán, Armando; Haynes, Richard W.; McCaffrey, Sarah; Mercer, Evan; Watson, Alan E., 2007. Fire social science research–selected highlights.
    Watson, Alan E.; Glaspell, Brian; Christensen, Neal; Lachapelle, Paul; Sahanatien, Vicki; Gertsch, Frances, 2007. Giving voice to wildlands visitors: Selecting indicators to protect and sustain experiences in the eastern arctic of Nunavut
    Magro, Teresa Cristina; Watson, Alan E.; Bernasconi, Paula, 2007. Identifying threats, values, and attributes in Brazilian wilderness areas
    Williams, Daniel R.; Watson, Alan E., 2007. Wilderness values: Perspectives from non-economic social science
    Watson, Alan E.; Knotek, Katie; Christensen, Neal, 2005. Voices from Denali: "it's bigger than wilderness"
    Schuster, Rudolph; Tarrant, Michael; Watson, Alan; Watson, Alan E., 2004. The Social Values of Wilderness
    Borrie, William T.; Christensen, Neal; Watson, Alan E.; Miller, Theron A.; McCollum, Daniel W., 2002. Public purpose recreation marketing: a focus on the relationships between the public and public lands
    Watson, Alan E.; Cole, David N.; Turner, David L.; Reynolds, Penny S., 2000. Wilderness recreation use estimation: a handbook of methods and systems
    Hendricks, William W.; Watson, Alan E., 1999. Wilderness Educators' Evaluation of the Impact Monster Program
    Watson, Alan E.; Cole, David N.; Friese, Gregory T.; Hendee, John C.; Landres, Peter B.; Geary, Thoms F.; Stokes, Gerald L.; Jarvis, Jeff; Henry, Wes, 1999. Wilderness uses, users, values, and management
    Patterson, Michael E.; Watson, Alan E.; Williams, Daniel R.; Roggenbuck, Joseph R., 1998. An hermeneutic approach to studying the nature of wilderness experiences
    Watson, Alan E.; Christensen, Neal A.; Blahna, Dale J.; Archibald, Kari S., 1998. Comparing manager and visitor perceptions of llama use in wilderness
    Watson, Alan E.; Cronn, Rich; Christensen, Neal A., 1998. Monitoring inter-group encounters in wilderness
    Watson, Alan E.; Cole, David N.; Roggenbuck, Joseph W., 1995. Trends in wilderness recreation use characteristics
    Landres, Peter B.; Cole, David N.; Watson, Alan E., 1994. A monitoring strategy for the national wilderness preservation system
    Watson, Alan E.; Niccolucci, M. J.; Williams, Daniel R., 1994. The nature of conflict between hikers and recreational stock users in the John Muir wilderness
    Watson, Alan E.; Niccolucci, Michael J.; Williams, Daniel R., 1993. Hikers and recreational stock users: predicting and managing recreation conflicts in three wildernesses
    Love, Timothy G.; Watson, Alan E., 1992. Effects of the Gates Park Fire on recreation choices
    Watson, Alan E.; Niccolucci, Michael J., 1992. Place of Residence and Hiker-Horse Conflict in the Sierras
    Watson, Alan E.; Williams, Daniel R.; Joseph W. Roggenbuck,; John J. Daigle,, 1992. Visitor characteristics and preferences for three National Forest wildernesses in the South
    Watson, Alan E.; Roggenbuck, Joseph W.; Williams, Daniel R., 1991. The influence of past experience on wilderness choice
    Watson, Alan E.; Cordell, H. Ken; Hartmann, Lawrence A., 1989. Characteristics of wilderness users in outdoor recreation assessments
    Roggenbuck, Joseph W.; Watson, Alan E., 1989. Wilderness recreation use: the current situation
    Participants sit at tables in a meeting hall, completing fun, interactive exercise
    A recently released ‘social vulnerability’ protocol provides a detailed manual for applying social science to support forest and river planning efforts (e.g., forest plan revision). Specifically, the protocol is designed to engage the public about the importance of (and tradeoffs among) ecosystem services, as well as those drivers of change influential to such benefits.
    decorative image of native american artifacts
    This research looks at opportunities to utilize traditional phenological knowledge to support adaptive management of social-ecological systems vulnerable to changes in climate and fire regimes. Integrating phenological knowledge into natural resource stewardship is important in making land management decisions. Indigenous knowledge of seasonal change adds a broader ecological knowledge base in the context of changing and vulnerable social and ecological systems. The knowledge gained from an ongoing relationship with the landscape and ecosystems therein holds potential for conservation, restoration, and adaptation. 
    The Rocky Mountain Research Station is a partner in helping to protect or restore relationships between residents of the Flathead Indian Reservation and the Mission Mountain landscape.
    The Rocky Mountain Research Station, in partnership with the Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribes (CSKT) of Montana, and the University of Leeds, UK, are working together to protect or restore relationships between residents of the Flathead Indian Reservation and the Mission Mountain landscape within the reservation.
    For nearly 50 years, scientists at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute (established as the Forest Service Wilderness Management Research Unit in 1967) and their collaborators have compiled important research on natural and social science issues pertaining to wilderness. This archive neatly organizes such research, and makes it available to the public in digital format.
    Hikers in the Lost Coast Wilderness in California (USDA FS)
    The Wilderness Act noted its 50th anniversary in the signing of the law in 2014. Leopold Institute scientists and partners contributed five major articles highlighting 50 years of Wilderness science.
    Past and ongoing research provides insights into the nature of wilderness experiences and the factors that influence experience quality (photo by David Cole, USFS).
    The Wilderness Visitor Experience Workshop was held at the Lubrecht Experimental Forest near Missoula, MT, on April 4-7, 2011 with the purpose of celebrating lessons learned from half a century of research on visitor experience and preparing for the 50 years of wilderness research and stewardship.
    All caves on the Monongahela National Forest, located in north central West Virginia, have been closed to public access since 2009 in response to the spread of White-nose Syndrome (WNS) in bats. WNS is caused by a fungus with pores transferred from one cave to another, potentially by people. A study of the caving community on the Monongahela National Forest was conducted to understand the likely social and economic impacts of these closures. 
    Researchers with the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute applied a computer simulation model to understand visitor travel through administratively established zones and use levels of backcountry campsites at the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of Superior National Forest. The model provides a user-friendly interface for interactive modeling and can output a variety of estimates about overnight visitor use. Current knowledge on visitor travel patterns is needed by managers to make decisions about entrance point quotas.
    Research on social-symbolic meanings is advancing our understanding of how recreation activity participation contributes to psychological well-being; how attachments to places contribute to a sense of meaning, identity, and community; how attachments vary across culture and affect local management regimes; and how place meanings and attachments affect natural resource conflicts. A key outcome of this work has been the development of standardized questionnaire instruments designed to measure place attachment among recreation site visitors and community residents.