Wilderness research needs prioritization

Looking east toward Wrangell St. Elias NP, in Alaska

The Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute is developing its next science strategic plan.  This planto be established on three pillars: science for wilderness, wilderness for science, and wilderness in a landscape context, will orient the Institute’s work over the next five to ten years, and, we hope, move us toward the Institute’s vision…A world where science, wilderness, and relationships between all people and wild lands thrive.  

To ensure the plan is underpinned by a robust, and broadly defined, understanding of wilderness research needs and priorities within the United States and internationally, we have established information gathering and sharing opportunities at several steps in the planning process.  

In early April, we asked for help to develop a “universe” of potential wilderness research needs; we thank you kindly for your participation in that effort.  232 people engaged the research-needs web application, from 16 countries (Austria, Italy, Germany, Ukraine, Slovakia, Wales, Iceland, England, Australia, Venezuela, Singapore, Canada, India, New Zealand, China, and the United States) and 31 U.S. states and D.C.  All told, you provided 117 comments, all of which were integrated into the draft list of research needs. 

Now, after distilling the research questions/needs into a tractable list of broad, integrated research topics, we are at the next step of our partner engagement process.  That is, here, we provide an opportunity for you to prioritize wilderness research topics, from your perspective. There are no right or wrong answers for this exercise; priorities should be guided by your science needs for supporting wilderness stewardship. To be clear, we recognize the importance of all research topics presented, but we are gathering input to understand the highest priorities because: (1) we understand that our partners may have varying high-priority research needs; and (2) our capacity, both in terms of staff and available resources to conduct research, is limited.  Understanding if there are commonalities in priorities, across partners, will allow us to deploy our expertise and capacity most effectively. 

A few final notes on the prioritization exercise.  First, we are asking you to consider broad, integrated wilderness research topics, versus discipline specific research questions (the focus of the previous partner engagement step). Generally, the research topics presented implicitly encompass both social and ecological questions, as well as more specific resources (e.g. water, fire), needs, or issues (e.g. meeting the needs of different user groups). Second, whope to understand the nuances, or context, for your respective prioritizations.  To develop this understanding, we have provided an open-ended comment box in the demographics section of the web application.  Please share any information that would help us to understand your priorities.  Also, we will host several virtual workshops to share the results of this step and to ensure that we understand your research priorities.  Please annotate, in the demographics section, if you are interested to participate in a virtual meeting, and which dates would work best for you.  Lastly, attached is a list of the thirty-one research topics being evaluated.  Please consider this a job aid that may simplify your effort to prioritize the topics (on paper) before inputting the results into the web application. 

For those interested to prioritize wilderness research topics, from your perspective, please follow this link: https://leopold.scienceplanning.net/sciencepriorities/ 

The link will remain active for five weeks, until July 14th, 2021Specific instructions are provided in the application.   

Lastly, if you need assistance with the web-interface, or have other questions, please contact Teresa Hollingsworth (teresa.hollingsworth@usda.gov), interim Deputy Director at the Leopold Institute. 

As before, please share this information with people in your network(s) that may be interested to respond, including managers of wilderness unitsand thank you, for ensuring that your needs help to shape the next decade of wilderness research at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute.