IUCN Category Ib Wilderness "A large area of unmodified or slightly modified land, and/or sea, retaining its natural character and influence, without permanent or significant habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural condition."

Welcome to the Wilderness Specialist Group!

The Wilderness Specialist Group (WSG) was launched at the World Parks Congress in Durban, South Africa, in 2003. The task force was established to respond to several needs:

  • to promote dialogue on wilderness in the international conservation community,
  • to provide a stronger voice for the wilderness constituency within WCPA, and
  • to provide a formal linkage between IUCN and the World Wilderness Congresses

The Wilderness Specialist Group website is a key resource in achieving these objectives.

The creation of this specialist group also acknowledges an important trend, which is that the wilderness concept is moving inexorably into the mainstream around the world. In 1990 there were six countries with some form of wilderness legislation. Today there are nine countries with laws, and least nine more with wilderness policies or zoning mechanisms, and two countries with laws being drafted (Mexico and Turkey).

This trend is set to continue and accelerate because protecting large intact landscapes – and restoring fragmented or degraded areas – is usually the fastest, cheapest and simplest way to generate the full range of critical ecosystem services that we all depend on. From water supply to carbon sequestration to building resilient ecosystems for biodiversity conservation, particularly in the face of climate change, wilderness is a critical component of a healthy planet. We may not be able to prevent a climate change catastrophe without protecting our global wilderness resource. Protecting wilderness is also vital from a cultural perspective, whether wilderness conservation is achieved by indigenous groups seeking to protect their traditional way of life, or by urban groups looking for spiritual renewal. A planet without wilderness would be a deeply impoverished place, socially, spiritually, economically, and biologically.

Our job at the Wilderness Specialist Group is to help catalyze interest in wilderness protected areas within IUCN and globally, and to provide technical resources and guidance on wilderness conservation. In addition to launching its website, the Wilderness Specialist Group has been heavily engaged in WCPA’s recent revisions of its protected area category management guidelines and has cosponsored several new wilderness publications

Members of the WSG are playing strategic roles in designing WILD10, the 10th World Wilderness Congress (Spain, Oct 2013) in order to create effective collaborative partnerships working directly on practical conservation outcomes and positive, state-of-the-art models for presentation and announcement when the Congress convenes.  There are targeted outcomes on tap for Large Land and Seascapes, Wild Waters, Native and Community Management, Conservation and Communications, A New Conservation Vision for Europe, Science and Stewardship, GenWILD (youth) and Coalition WILD (Young Professionals), Nature Needs Half and  the Nature Strategy for Sustainable Development, and much more.

The founding Co-Chair, Khulani Mkhize of Ezemvelo KwaZulu Wildlife, passed away two years ago. WSG is currently replacing this position, and is also seeking a young professional intern with relevant interests to this Specialist Group to assist with management and professional outreach.

Vance G. Martin  
Chair, WSG  

The WILD Foundation
717 Poplar Avenue
Boulder CO 80304
Tel: ++303-442-8811
Fax: ++303-442-8877
Email: vance@wild.org




1. Objectives:

  • Promote research and discussion on the importance and role of wilderness;
  • Help integrate wilderness related issues into WCPA publications, proceedings and meetings;
  • Serve as a liaison between IUCN WCPA and the World Wilderness Congress and establish linkages between the World Wilderness Congresses and IUCN’s World Parks Congresses and World Conservation Congresses.

2. Products and Activities:

  • Develop IUCN and other publications relating to wilderness conservation, including proceedings from WSG activities at the World Parks Congress and World Conservation Congress;
  • Provide an expert referral service to the WCPA for wilderness-related issues;

3. Operations:

  • The WSG will be chaired by Vance Martin (President, The WILD Foundation) with a secretariat provided by The WILD Foundation;


Wilderness was first officially recognized as an IUCN protected area category in 1992. However, the wilderness concept has always been well represented in the IUCN's World Commission on Protected Areas (WCPA) – and its predecessor commission – on an ad hoc basis by numerous IUCN members, as well as through an informal but long-standing link between the IUCN and the World Wilderness Congress (and its sponsor, The WILD Foundation). Indeed, since its first meeting in 1977, the World Wilderness Congress has reported back regularly to the IUCN, helping define and advocating strongly for a wilderness category in the IUCN Framework for Protected Areas.

Nonetheless, there had been a need for more formal discussion of wilderness issues at WCPA meetings and in IUCN publications for some time, and this need became increasingly apparent after the WCPA took the important step of establishing Category 1(b) - Wilderness. As a result, during the WCPA meetings in Amman, Jordan, in 2000, The WILD Foundation's President, Vance Martin, proposed that a Wilderness Specialist Group (WSG) be established as an IUCN focal point for the wilderness concept, and to provide more formal representation in WCPA activities. David Sheppard (Head, IUCN Programme on Protected Areas) acknowledged this proposal in a letter dated 3 November 2000, and requested that The WILD Foundation develop more detailed terms of reference for the WSG.

After consultations with numerous wilderness NGOs, additional meetings at the 7th World Wilderness Congress (South Africa, 2001) and a series of communications with the WCPA Secretariat through November 2002, The WILD Foundation developed the WSG's terms of reference. Approved by the WCPA in March 2003, the Wilderness Specialist Group was formally introduced to IUCN members at the Vth World Parks Congress in September 2003.

Northern Chinese Argali (Ovis ammon jubata) 2008 IUCN Red List status: Near Threatened

Northern Chinese Argali (Ovis ammon jubata) 2008 IUCN Red List status: Near Threatened

Photo: Dr. Richard B. Harris

World WIlderness Congress
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  • IUCN World Conservation Congress 2012

    IUCN World Conservation Congress 2012

    Photo: IUCN / Sophie Both