Guidelines for designation and recognition of Wilderness Areas according to the historical roots of the Concept of Conservation applied in the U.S. which has so far guided the work done in Italy by the Associazione Italiana per la Wilderness (AIW) – guidelines also applicable in Europe.

“A continuous stretch of country preserved in its natural state, opens to lawful hunting and fishing, devoid of roads, artificial trails, cottages, or other works of man” Aldo Leopold

On the 13th September 2010 the General Secretary of the AIW decided to convene the "Council for the Wilderness" for the first time. The "Council for the Wilderness" is an advisory body to set up by the Board of Directors of the AIW to establish official positions regarding the interpretation be given to the Wilderness philosophy and its concept of conservation, and to redeem vital issues for the Association. The first decision of this Council has been laying down guidelines for the designation of Wilderness Areas which are applicable also in Europe. The Decision taken was then ratified by the Board of Directors.

The guidelines are intended to illustrate the concept of the Wilderness Area as applied in Italy by the AIW during its over twenty-five years of work; activities that allowed the designation of 64 Wilderness Areas by public authorities or organizations and private owners.

The decision to draw these guidelines is triggered by the fact that in Europe a new organization linked to the WWF (the PAN Parks Foundation) is spreading the idea that as Wilderness areas can be classified territories of high biological value and rich biodiversity of at least 10,000 hectares of extension, which are closed to hunting but indeed promoting tourist activities, even if “responsible”, and within which there may also be roads and other human structures. A concept that if should it be adopted by the authorities such as the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the European Union, would call into question the many already designated Wilderness Areas in Italy and those that will be designated on proposal of the AIW. Wilderness Areas that have been and will be protected on the bases of a liberal-democratic method of land ownership rights observance according to the lasting (forever wild) Conservation Concept according to its American historical roots.

AIW believes that the Wilderness Areas as proposed by the PAN Parks Foundation (but also by several other associations and environmentalists who are following its footsteps) are not true Wilderness Areas, but only large areas of high biological and environmental value, though crossed by roads or other human structures, and often areas that are already protected and to which is simply a change of the name (e.g. National Parks). Whilst the concept of the American Wilderness Area is used for very specific situations, with values often detached from biological or environmental importance and long-lasting protection; a protection that excludes them from the normal management of the areas and also from the will of their managers, mainly characterized by the complete absence of all types of roads and other modern human structures. In practice not all the large areas listed by PAN Parks meet the criteria for their designations as real Wilderness Areas, nor the listed areas are proof of inside wilderness values (or if they have, it is only for small sector within the entire area).


1) The use of the term “Wilderness Area” is maintained both for its original meaning of virgin and unexplored area or nearly so, and for a link with the historical movement which this protected area dates back to; recognizing that the Italian or European Wilderness Area could and should be referred to and /or inserted in a lower position in the eventual classification designed by IUCN Wilderness Task Force.

2) With the exception of Italian and European situation resulting from the different land ownership and use of renewable natural resources due to the different social situation, as well as for limits of hectarage, Wilderness Area should refer to the meaning given by founding fathers of the American movement for the Wilderness (Aldo Leopold and Robert Marshall in the first place) and to the subsequent steps up to the historic Wilderness Act that in the U.S. codify this form of protected area.

3) “Wilderness Value” shall mean the physical characteristic of a natural environment uninterrupted area where exist rough or wild places, possibly closed by natural barriers that isolate them from the surrounding spoiled and/or cultivated or urbanized land; an area which is not crossed by roads of any type (asphalted, dirt, and forest roads or tracks) or where there are no artefacts of recent construction (works dating back to historical periods are possible, providing they are left or remained in their original state).

4) “Wilderness tie down” must be intended as the absolute commitment of not urbanization taken with a formal act and only editable by any other similar act, to preserve of the areas listed in above paragraph.

5) “Wilderness Area” shall mean an area of natural environment with the characteristics described in paragraph 1, which was formally bound as stated in paragraph 2 for the purpose of preservation of that value (natural condition). It is fundamental that it is not crossed by roads of any type for motorized or mechanized use and that the access is prohibited to those means of transport.

6) Exception is possible for roads that can only penetrate Wilderness Area, but that do not lead in other roads, and that maintain the compactness of the territory; these roads must be considered as outside the Wilderness Area. Roads and/or forest tracks in some cases may be accepted on the condition that they lead to or pass through private land, which do not break the unity of the Wilderness Area or which have been made in the distant times and are in a state of obvious neglect or of very small use.

7) In Wilderness Area the presence of mountain huts and camps and other shelters are allowed, providing that they existed before the designation of the Wilderness Area (because they potentially could easily be dismantled by restoring the state of the places if politico-managerial presupposition will be created and/or social conditions will be changed and then allowed it).

8) For reasons of strong social pressures sometimes difficult to counter, the crossing of power lines, gas or oil pipelines can be accepted if they pre-existed before the designation of the Wilderness Area, which are not served by roads or tracks and which are not of high impact on environment and/or landscape (because they potentially could easily be dismantled by restoring the state of the places if politico-managerial presupposition will be created and/or social conditions will be changed and then allowed it).

9) In the case of rivers or streams, the presence of bridges should be considered as a road that passes through the rivers bed, and reason to separate Wilderness Area into different Areas.

10) Every Wilderness Area should have its own denomination although administratively including areas belonging to different Municipality or Regions authorities. In such cases, individual sectors may have different names to respect of the local people will and to guarantee their management autonomy and media use also for tourist need. This local denomination, however, must always be within brackets and must be preceded by the name of the entire Area.

11) Wilderness Area designation should be made by a formal act containing ties down as referred above: Law, Decree, Resolution, Convention or Agreement.

12) The Wilderness Area may be designated on any landed property, providing that its designation is only made by the land owners organizations (public or private) and by private owners; exception to this requirement may be made only to managing authorities of Regional and National Parks, Nature Reserves and other protected areas having urbanistic power, provided that the tie down of “wilderness” is absolute and not removed by the will of the management agencies (in these cases the constraint of “wilderness” will be valid only for the urbanistic aspect, unless the purchase or leasing of the properties involved - or compensation for renewable natural resources constraints - are provided).

13) The extension of a Wilderness Area can be a few hectares too, but it must have an internal zone classified as “wild” allowing the isolation from the surrounding area, such as: river valleys, plateaus, ravines of particular depth, particularly isolated rivers or streams closed by banks or woods curtains, marshy expanses isolated by barriers of vegetation. Excluded from this limitation are sea, lake or river islands.

14) Wilderness Areas may also be designated on modest plots of natural land separated from each other, providing that they fall within a given territory possessing the “Wilderness Values” described above.

15) Wilderness Area fundamental aim must be to maintain its territorial integrity state of isolation and solitude. The conservation of naturalistic, biological, historical, archaeological, paleontological, cultural and biodiversity peculiarities is only one indirect purpose and an added value.

16) For the reasons mentioned above the state of the environment is not crucial to the recognition of the area as Wilderness, nor is the presence of greater or lesser biodiversity, which should be regarded as a major or minor natural value of the area but not as a graduality of the values of conservative tie down.

17) The possible utilisation of renewable natural resources by landowners or local communities or anyone who has got legal rights does not invalidate the existence of the Wilderness Area.

18) Fishing and hunting activities, but also mushrooms and brushwood resources harvesting, can continue to perpetuate, unless the Wilderness Area is subject to other forms of pre-existing constraints, such as Nature Reserves, National or Regional parks or other types of protected or hunting areas.

19) Wilderness Areas should have included one or more fully protected zones (no cutting of trees and/or livestock grazing and use of other resources in ways not compatible with the conservation objectives), even with the possible hunting ban if it is decided by the hunting or wildlife authorities.

20) No motorized or mechanized access can be allowed in Wilderness Area. Powered or unpowered aircraft will ideally be prohibited, although permitted as long as the relevant public authority decides to the contrary.

21) The Wilderness Area must not have a prevalent tourist function, or it should be at levels and of a type which will maintain the area as an intact resource for future generations. It should be intended as constant and not an increasing tourist resource, maintaining and un-altering the current status and the spiritual value for the visitors. It should aim to prevent the excessive human use and presence in order to maintain the feeling of isolation and solitude.

22) Free access outside of marked trails within Wilderness Area should also be allowed, providing that the use of the area does not exceed the level considered excessive by the managing authorities, unless special prohibitions are required to protect biological and geomorphologic distinctive features.

23) Tourist management of the Wilderness Area shall not include any forms of land domestication. Touristic signs and paths marking must be kept within the minimum limits required and any other structure prohibited.

24) For any technical requirement and management issue regarding the boundary of a Wilderness Area, also to establish the land to be maintained outside of it, and for the Wilderness Area management, the U.S. experience on Wilderness Areas of the historic Wilderness Society will be considered.

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