UM Wilderness Institute Names New Director

January 30, 2019

UM News Service

UM Associate Professor Andrew Larson and a group of students and researchers float the South Fork of the Flathead River at the end of a 10-day forest vegetation and fuels sampling trip in the Bob Marshall Wilderness. (Courtesy of Tim Faber)MISSOULA – University of Montana Associate Professor Andrew Larson has been named the director of UM’s Wilderness Institute. Larson will lead interdisciplinary programs to help further the understanding of wilderness and wildlands stewardship through education, research and service.

Housed within UM’s W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, the 45-year-old Wilderness Institute provides students, land managers and the public with research products, educational programs, resources and technical tools to understand public lands conservation and stewardship. The institute also shares the social and ecological values of wilderness.

“Wilderness is more valuable to society now than ever before, and Missoula is the center of the world for wilderness science, education and training,” Larson said. “The legacy of the Wilderness Institute is a huge part of that, and it will continue to play an important role well into the future.”

As director, Larson said he plans to continue advancing significant efforts of the institute’s focal points of education, research and service.

“Education is identified as one of the purposes of wilderness in the 1964 Wilderness Act, and the Wilderness Institute will continue to use wilderness as its best classroom,” Larson said.

He also aims to grow research activity by supporting faculty and graduate students conducting wilderness and wildlands research as well as engaging the University community and the public in the rich resources and programs fostered by the Wilderness Institute.

Larson earned bachelor and doctoral degrees from the University of Washington and joined the UM faculty in 2009. He currently is an associate professor of forest ecology and researches forest and fire ecology, forest management, restoration and climate change adaptation. He has a long history of collaboration with leaders in wilderness science. In 2013, Larson was recognized with the U.S. Forest Service National Wilderness Award for Excellence in Wilderness Stewardship Research.

“Andrew brings to the institute a deep and multifaceted perspective on wilderness that integrates ecological science, policy, education and management,” said FCFC Dean Tom DeLuca. “Andrew is an internationally renowned ecologist with a passion for wilderness and an understanding of the complexities of protected areas health and management. It is my hope that his passion, scholarship and diligence will propel the Wilderness Institute to a new level.” 

Established in 1975, the Wilderness Institute was organized by a group of scientists, educators, conservationists and public land managers in response to ongoing political strife over wilderness allocation and management. Since then, Wilderness Institute projects have responded to a variety of wildlands issues and needs, including performing field research at the request of Sen. Lee Metcalf which led to the establishment of nine wilderness study areas in Montana.

The Wilderness Institute also led the organization of field studies for the first wilderness inventory of lands managed by Bureau of Land Management. Additionally, the Wilderness Institute has worked with the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes on the establishment of the Mission Mountain Tribal Wilderness, a unique tribally-protected area adjacent to the federally-managed Mission Mountains Wilderness.

Current Wilderness Institute programs at UM include the wilderness and civilization undergraduate program and wilderness studies minor degree; the wilderness management graduate certificate; the Freshman Wilderness Experience, a wilderness orientation program; Wilderness Connect, an online wilderness information library that garners half a million visitors each year; and a citizen science program that empowers community volunteers to work with experienced field leaders to monitor the status of public lands in Montana.

For more information on UM’s Wilderness Institute, visit


Contact: Andrew Larson, UM Wilderness Institute director, 406-243-5521,