George Stankey

George Stankey was the first scientist Bob Lucas hired to join him at the Forest Service’s Wilderness Management Research Unit in Missoula, Montana. George received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Oregon State University (in 1965 and 1966) and a Ph.D. from Michigan State University (in 1971)—all in geography. George joined the Wilderness Management Research Unit in the summer of 1968, where he began work focused particularly on social aspects of carrying capacity in wilderness. George and Bob were the sole scientists in the unit until 1978, when David Cole and Randy Washburne arrived. George worked at the unit for close to 20 years. He is well-known for his numerous articles on both wilderness visitors and wilderness management generally and was co-author of the first two editions of the textbook, Wilderness Management.

A younger George smiling softly at the camera, kneeling on the grass and holding a cloth. His brown hair is messy, and he has a notebook in his pocket.


In 1980 and 1981, he took a leave of absence from the Forest Service, lecturing in the forestry program at Australian National University and working with the New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service. In 1987 he resigned from the Forest Service and took a position in Sydney, Australia at the Kuring-gai Chase College of Advanced Education. After two years in Australia, he returned to the United States, where he worked in the College of Forestry at Oregon State University. He went back to work with Forest Service Research in 1996, stationed in Corvallis where he worked for the People and Natural Resources Program headed by Roger Clark. He retired in 2006.

George’s most significant empirical contribution was probably his dissertation work on the carrying capacity perceptions of wilderness visitors and subsequent studies that extended this work. He explored how visitor satisfaction and experience varied with such factors as amount of use, type of use and location of use—variables that managers can influence in attempting to provide opportunities for quality wilderness experiences.
More significant than his empirical work, however, may be his writings about wilderness quality, carrying capacity and wilderness management—some of the earliest and most influential attempts to bring social science to bear on these topics. He also contributed significantly to the development of several important frameworks for public land management—the Recreation Opportunity Spectrum and the Limits of Acceptable Change planning process.

An older Dr. Stankey sits with his legs crossed on a deck. Roses and other flowers can be seen behind him in a prolific garden.