Primary Interpretive Themes for Wilderness Education

610 FW 2
Originating Office
Division of Natural Resources and Conservation Planning

Interpretation provides opportunities for people to forge intellectual and emotional connections to the meanings inherent in wilderness resources. Interpretive themes communicate specific messages based on the significance of the wilderness resource and experience to the American people. They are the stories through which we convey the values of wilderness to the public. These themes connect wilderness to larger ideas as well as universal meanings and values. They are the building blocks on which we base interpretive products and services for wilderness. The interpretive themes for wilderness areas follow:


Theme A

The concept of wilderness, codified in law, originated in the United States with the conviction that some wildland resources are most valuable (e.g., social, scientific, economic, educational, recreational, and cultural value) to Americans left in their natural state.

Theme B

As a foundation for healthy and diverse ecosystems, officially designated wilderness and other remaining wildlands provide critical habitat for rare and endangered species and play a significant role in the overall health of natural systems worldwide (e.g.,watersheds, air quality).

Theme C

By law, we manage wilderness differently than other Federal lands in order to retain its primeval character and preserve wilderness as a special place for humans to experience their relationship to the natural world.

Theme D

Wilderness offers opportunities for personal renewal, inspiration, artistic expression, pride of ownership of our shared heritage, and the prospect of hope for the future. Wilderness has inspired and continues to inspire a distinctive genre of literature and art, enriching millions of lives in the United States and around the world.

Theme E

Wilderness provides opportunities for physical and mental challenge, risk and reward, renewal, self-reliance, and solitude or opportunities for primitive and unconfined recreation and serves as a haven from the pressures of modern society.

Theme F

The survival of wilderness depends on individual and societal commitment to the idea of wilderness and on appropriate visitor use, behavior, and values.

Theme G

Wilderness provides a unique setting for teaching ecosystem stewardship as well as science, math, literature, art, and other subjects (e.g., civics, outdoor skills, music, and others) using an interdisciplinary approach.

Theme H

Wilderness contains primitive areas relatively undisturbed by human activities where scientific research may reveal information about natural processes and living systems that may have wide-ranging applications and may serve as global indicators of ecological change.

Theme I

Cultural and archeological sites found in wilderness can provide a more complete picture of human history and culture.  (This includes indigenous peoples; conquests; colonialism and resistance, freedom, independence, and ingenuity; a sense of connectedness; stewardship; and human survival.)

Theme J

The Wilderness Act created a National Wilderness Preservation System that preserves some of the most unique ecological, geological, scientific, scenic, and historical values in the National Wildlife Refuge System, the National Park System, National Forest System, and in public lands administered by the Bureau of Land Management that the public and Congress have determined to require special protection.

Theme K

Wilderness visitors must accept certain inherent risks associated with weather, terrain, water, fish, wildlife, plants, and/or their habitats, and other natural elements. We cannot guarantee visitor safety, but we can enhance it with proper trip planning, appropriate skills, and responsible behavior.