Federal Land Management:

Status and Uses of Wilderness Study Areas

RCED-93-151: Published: Sep 23, 1993. Publicly Released: Oct 25, 1993.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO provided information on the wilderness study areas managed by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and the Forest Service, focusing on: (1) legislative guidance and agency policies governing wilderness study area management; (2) the various activities and uses of the study areas; (3) the ways these activities and uses affect the areas; and (4) agency actions to monitor and restrict these uses and repair damage.

GAO found that; (1) wilderness study areas are areas that are identified, either by Congress or agency officials, as having certain characteristics that qualify them as wilderness; (2) BLM and the Forest Service have implemented policies designated to protect wilderness study areas; (3) motor vehicles and mechanized equipment are generally prohibited in wilderness areas; (4) Congress has allowed for certain types of recreation in wilderness study areas such as riding all-terrain vehicles, motorcycles, snowmobiles, and mountain bikes; (5) surface disturbance or damage by motorized vehicle use is a concern of the managing agencies, as well as environmental groups; and (6) agency managers have several mechanisms for managing wilderness study areas and mitigating resource damage such as monitoring uses in study areas, restricting uses if necessary, and repairing any ensuing damage.

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