The boundary of the Wilderness

Identifying the boundary of the Wilderness is one of the two most important aspects in the Wilderness conservation process. Boundaries define the area where specific conditions of Wilderness management are implemented. The second important aspect is the size of the Wilderness.

The boundaries and size of the wilderness are interconnected with one essencial process when we want to create a long-term and meaningful piece of wilderness

Meaning of boundary

A boundary is generally a tool that limits our behavior. This also applies to Wilderness. This Wilderness restriction has its focus on limiting our extractive uses such as: logging, grazing, hunting and fishing.

The Wilderness boundary is also a tool that helps us identify an area where specific rules need to be followed. This means that our behavior should follow an agreed standard. This is very important in the case of learning and gathering experience during our visit to the Wilderness.

Ecological connectivity between Alps and Apennines
The Wilderness boundary is a tool that helps us identify an area where specific rules need to be followed.

The challenge of defining a wilderness boundary

Wilderness generally is not associated with the boundary of larger ecosystems such as flowing rivers and riverbanks or the full spectrum of different forest types growing in a single valley.

The situation is even more complex, if you look at the ecosystem conservation from the perspective of protected species such as the wolf, bear or otter. Their range is much larger than any protected areas, mountains or watershed.

Furthermore, most ecosystems, and thus the territories that protected species need to survive, are significantly disturbed by human activity and man made infrastructures.

Wilderness boundary in Europe

Furthermore, it is difficult, especially in Europe, to define the exact limits of the distribution of protected species and the territory necessary for surviving. The reality is that it is usually necessary to identify a general (potential) area of interest and only then in the next step propose and definitively agree on the future boundaries of the wilderness. This line can be drawn inside or even outside existing protected areas.

Achieving an acceptable result and a compromise between the range of some protected species and land without extractive use and complex ownership conditions, is a very difficult task.

Fragmentation of Wilderness in Europe

The consequence of all these challenges is that Wilderness usually only includes segments of the larger ecosystems. For example, several kilometers of river banks or a selected type of forest in the valley. The result of this process is usually the protection of breeding and mating areas of protected species. On top of that, another important aspect is the availability of the land without extractive use.

There is also the situation where Wilderness is covering only parts of a protected area, sometimes only segments of the protected area core zone. For example, Majella Wilderness (Italy) or Hohe Tauern Wilderness, (Austria).

All these aspects are just additional reasons for the need to clearly determine the Wilderness boundary and properly mark them in the field.

Experience with pragmatic EWS Wilderness stewardship, confirmed that the critical aspect to fulfilling all these expectations is a complex approach to designating Wilderness. In this process, the identification of Wilderness boundary is a fundamental activity.

The boundary must be identified and visualized not only on the map but very much also in a field. That is very often an even more challenging task. In that moment we are facing the following step – the challenge of how to mark the Wilderness boundary.

Uholka Wilderness Exchange Programme - 00074.jpg
Wilderness boundary not always respect ecological integrity


The Identification of the Wilderness boundary is a complex and demanding process. The people involved have to be well informed and they have to know this area well. Besides acquaintance with the geography of the particular area they have to be aware and well informed about the socio-economic aspect and the practical daily life of the local people. They have to be ready to deal with such kind of issues popping up during every day’s work.

Wilderness boundary does not always respect ecological integrity. The main reason, is the history of human settlements in a particular area. Nevertheless, it is an extremely important element in an overall process to define and designate Wilderness.

Experience from the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, USA.

An interesting example on how to identify a boundary, was the process of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, USA creation. In this case, the boundaries were defined by grizzly bear range combined with administrative jurisdictions. The result of this process, is that the area includes national parks, Wilderness, settlements and infrastructure and extensive tourism facilities.

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