The University of Montana this week named Associate Professor Andrew Larson to head its Wilderness Institute, placing renewed focus on the stewardship of wild lands using science, education and research.

The 45-year old program, housed in the W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, has long been a crown jewel in the university's lineup, providing both students and land managers the research needed to carry out their mission to conserve public lands.

“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 plans to grow the institute's research activity by supporting faculty and graduate students who are conducting wilderness and wildlands projects. He also plans to promote the institute's resources to both the public and university researchers.

“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.

Larson earned both his bachelor and doctoral degrees from the University of Washington and joined the UM faculty in 2009. He currently serves as an associate professor of forest ecology.

He researches forest and fire ecology, forest management, restoration and climate change adaptation.

“Andrew brings to the institute a deep and multifaceted perspective on wilderness that integrates ecological science, policy, education and management,” said Tom DeLuca, dean of the College of Forestry. “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 in response to ongoing political strife over wilderness allocation and management. The institute provided the field research requested by former Sen. Lee Metcalf, leading to the establishment of nine wilderness study areas in Montana.