Isolated wilderness ecosystems with a history of frequent, low-severity fires have been altered due to many decades of fire exclusion and, as a result, are difficult to restore for philosophical and logistical reasons. In this paper, we describe the successional conditions of ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) communities along the South Fork of the Flathead River in the Bob Marshall Wilderness following decades of fire suppression, and then summarize the first-year effects of the 2003 fires on these communities. We found that at least 34 percent of the large ponderosa pine trees were dead or dying as a result of the fires, with much of this mortality due to cambial girdling following the burning of duff and litter buildup around the base of the trees. We explore possible strategies for, and barriers to, the restoration of deteriorating ecosystems in wilderness and other similarly managed natural areas that historically depended on frequent, low-intensity fires. We also discuss the complexity of managing fire-dependent ecosystems in wilderness.