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Solitude Monitoring


Opportunities for solitude is one of four defining wilderness characteristics identified in the 1964 Wilderness Act that the Forest Service and other federal agency managers are tasked with protecting. In order to do so, the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests have developed solitude monitoring protocol to collect travel encounter data within the Teton, Gros Ventre, Bridger, and Jedediah Smith Wilderness areas. The resulting information is critical to build a robust baseline and understand long-term trends in visitor use that will inform needed agency management actions, including identifying visitor education needs, to uphold wilderness characteristics.


This Solitude Monitoring program is a collaborative effort between the Wyoming Wilderness Association, regional federal agencies, and invested community members. By training our communities to become community scientists, we help our agency partners to reliably gather critical data through standardized protocols that ensure data quality and consistency through time and mutually foster a stewardship ethos within our communities.


The protocol used in this community science program meets the Forest Service National Minimum Protocol for Monitoring Outstanding Opportunities for Solitude criteria. Within this collaborative effort, Wyoming Wilderness Association helps recruit, train, and organize volunteers to collect solitude monitoring data for our Forest Service partners to compile and analyze. 


Please read on to find out how you can get involved in this important project.

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Disclaimer: Please note that by signing-up for this community science project, volunteers assume all risks and liability associated with monitoring in remote Wilderness areas. 

Key Definitions modified from Appendix A, “Enhanced” Protocol for Monitoring Opportunities for Solitude in Wilderness (USDA Forest Service 2016):


A “travel encounter” occurs when an observer sees or hears at least one other person, regardless of the duration or proximity of the contact. Encounters are recorded at two resolutions, as individual people and groups seen or heard while the observer is within a monitoring area. Travel encounters can include:

• Someone seen across a lake

• People camped at a site that you pass while hiking

• People who hike past you on the trail


Occupied Campsite:

A campsite is considered occupied if there is evidence that recreational visitors are currently camping there, even if no people are present at the time the camp is observed.   


Monitoring Area:

A monitoring area is a defined geographical location within a designated Wilderness within which the observer collects encounter data. Historically, solitude monitoring data in the Bridger-Teton and Caribou-Targhee National Forests has been collected from along trail corridors.


Monitoring Session:

A monitoring session includes travel encounter data collection on any given day, as long the observer is within the boundary of the monitoring area. A monitoring session can be either one continuous block of time, or broken up into multiple blocks throughout a given day, as long as the total time requirements are met. You must spend a minimum of 4 hours in the monitoring area to qualify as a “session”.

Frequently Asked Questions modified from Appendix A, “Enhanced” Protocol for Monitoring Opportunities for Solitude in Wilderness (USDA Forest Service 2016):

What if I see the same group of people twice?

If more than 15 minutes have passed since the most recent interaction, you should record the group as a new encounter.

What if I meet a group of people headed into the monitoring area that I just left? Can I still count them?

No, for data consistency only people encountered or heard while the observer is within the boundary should be marked as an encounter for that monitoring session.

What if while monitoring, I come across an unoccupied campsite?

In this circumstance, you should count the campsite as a group and assume one person per observed tent at the site.

Why count everyone seen, instead of only people passed on the trail? 

Counting everyone seen or heard avoids problems of having to decide whether to count someone as an encounter based on a subjective estimate of how far away they actually are. Additionally, in the wildest zones, seeing people in the distance may diminish the sense of solitude, even if they don’t come very close to you. 

Why do I need to be present for at least 4 hours when collecting solitude monitoring data? 

Analysis of comprehensive encounter data has shown that 3-4 hours is the minimum time block needed to gain a valid indication of the number of encounters a person would have over an 8-hour time period. Counting encounters for 4 hours is a strong indicator of (highly correlated with) the total number of encounters in a full day.  


What if I lose track of encounters? 

It is important to be as accurate as possible in documenting encounters. However, if you lose track of numbers, make a note of the gap in data and simply subtract that amount of time from the overall monitoring session.

Basic Solitude Monitoring Protocol modified from “Enhanced” Protocol for Monitoring Opportunities for Solitude in Wilderness (USDA Forest Service 2016):

  1. Monitoring requires a Solitude Monitoring Form (digital or paper). At the beginning of each monitoring session, record initial information at the top of the form, including:

    • Observer’s name

    • Total number of people in group (including yourself)

    • Monitoring area and Wilderness (only applicable if within the BTNF)

    • Date

  2. Once at the boundary of the monitoring area, record the start time for the session.

  3. Begin tallying travel encounters on the form as the number of people per group. You may also tally the number of dogs per group. Count all people seen or heard, no matter how close or far you are from them as long as you are within the monitoring area.  

    1. If you hike past a group camped, include the number of people you see as traveling encounters.  If you can’t get an exact count of the number of people (for example, if they are off in the distance), make your best estimate. 

    2. If you encounter stock users, tally the number of riders within the group. You may record the number of riders per stock on the monitoring form using a backslash. For example, 2 riders each leading a pack horse would be recorded as 2/4, meaning 2 riders per 4 horses in the group.

    3. If you see the same group more than once during a monitoring session and more than 15 minutes have passed since the last interaction, record the group as a new encounter.

  4. At the end of the monitoring session, record stop time and total hours monitored, write notes in the comments section, and tally the total number of hikers & backpackers, dogs, and stock users in the far-right column. Tally the total number of groups encountered in the bottom row. 

  5. Submit your completed form to Photos of the form or scans are all acceptable as long as the information is clear and legible.


Teton Wilderness Map

(Requires additional training - contact to learn more)

Teton Wilderness Solitude Monitoring Map_2022.jpg

Gros Ventre Wilderness Map

Gros Ventre Wilderness Solitude Monitoring Map_2022.jpg

Bridger Wilderness Maps

Bridger Wilderness Solitude Monitoring Map-Elkhart_Overview.jpg
Bridger Wilderness Solitude Monitoring map-GreenRiverLake_Overview.jpg
Bridger Wilderness Solitude Monitoring Map-BigSandy_Overview.jpg

Jedediah Smith Wilderness Map

Jedediah Smith Wilderness Solitude Monitoring Map_2022.jpg
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