Stakeholders in wilderness, and other public lands, have varying opinions on how well the land management agencies reflect their values and respond to their needs in management, and they therefore vary in their level of commitment and attachment to these places and the activities that occur there. Establishing baseline measures and monitoring indicators of the relationship between the public and wilderness lands can provide efficient evaluations of many management activities. Examples include protection of traditional relationships for indigenous people, and the enhancement and protection of relationships between the resource and both local and distant populations of stakeholders.
Most social science monitoring by wilderness managers in the U.S. has focused on either visitors’ perceived quality of experiences or a small set of commonly used indicators of threats to those experiences (Watson and Williams 1995). Measures of satisfaction, perceptions of crowding, number of encounters with other visitors while traveling and at campsites, perceptions of recreation visitor impacts to soil and vegetation, and other commonly used social science indicators imply a customer orientation between the agency and the public. The primary evaluation of how well public land managers are doing in their stewardship responsibilities is reflected through the quality of these transactions. That is, public land managers have been judged by their ability to provide particular conditions utilized during a visit.
Recent research has, however, suggested that stewardship responsibilities may also be evaluated through indicators of the relationship that is created, protected or restored through public lands management activities (Alessa and Watson 2002, Shroyer and others 2003). This approach, described as public purpose marketing by Borrie and others (2002a) and Watson and Borrie (2003), emphasizes understanding relationships, in addition to monitoring transactions, as the primary stewardship responsibility of public land managers. The purpose of this paper is to describe why wilderness monitoring programs should include protocol for monitoring relationships between people and wilderness.