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Protected area stewardship in the Anthropocene: integrating science, law, and ethics to evaluate proposals for ecological restoration in wilderness

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Every year, the four federal agencies that manage designated wilderness in the United States receive proposals to implement small- and large-scale ecological restorations within the National Wilderness Preservation System. The combination of climate change with other landscape stressors is driving ecological restoration to be one of the single most important, challenging, and potentially litigious wilderness stewardship issues. In addition, different stakeholders may have strongly divergent views about what the right decision should be, and decisions need to go beyond routine technical and scientific analyses to incorporate a broader range of legal and ethical considerations. We present a framework based on a comprehensive, structured set of scientific, legal, and ethical questions to guide the evaluation of proposals for ecological restoration and other types of ecological intervention in wilderness. This framework of questions is a voluntary tool designed to increase communication and transparency among scientists, managers, and interested publics regarding the trade-offs and uncertainties of ecological restoration, and promote informed public deliberation in managing the public resource of wilderness.

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