Date of Graduation

Fall 12-18-2015

Document Access

Project/Capstone - Global access

Degree Name

Master of Science in Environmental Management (MSEM)


College of Arts and Sciences


Environmental Management

First Advisor

Stephanie Ohshita, PhD


The Wilderness Act of 1964 gave the federal land management agencies—the National Park Service, United States Forest Service, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management—the authority to identify, propose, and manage lands as wilderness. Wilderness, once approved by Congress for inclusion in the National Wilderness Preservation System, is offered the highest form of land preservation in the nation. However, the wilderness identification process used by the implementing agencies is based on a half-century old statute with an aging definition of wilderness. While designated wilderness can protect the plant and wildlife communities within its borders from direct anthropogenic impacts, climate change and habitat fragmentation threaten the ability of these populations to persist long term. To better preserve plant and wildlife communities within wilderness, and thus preserve the fundamental character of wilderness itself, the wilderness identification process must be expanded to ensure new areas are selected based on ecological significance, in addition to the historic concepts instated by the Wilderness Act. In particular, the need for a reformed wilderness designation process is pronounced in the California desert region, where an increasingly fragmented landscape and demand for renewable energy infrastructure in the region poses a threat to ecosystems both within and outside of wilderness boundaries. Conservation planners have studied the benefits of ecological connectivity across larger landscapes, and well-connected preserve systems are more successful in maintaining ecosystem function, species persistence, and biological and genetic diversity. Prioritization of ecological connectivity by federal land management agencies would contribute to a more resilient National Wilderness Preservation System and the protection of the unique ecosystems and biodiversity found in the California desert region.


A review of the 1964 Wilderness Act and administering agencies and analysis of how incorporate the ecological connectivity concept in California desert wilderness planning can benefit the preservation of desert ecosystems.