Who is involved with wilderness today?

Every person in the United States is directly or indirectly involved with wilderness today. Some people are directly involved with wilderness as volunteers, educators, artists, subsistence gatherers, rangers, or managers. Others drink water from watersheds protected in wilderness areas. Some people hunt and gather food in wilderness areas, where allowed. Many people explore and do research in wilderness areas. Guides lead trips on foot, on horseback, in rafts, and canoes so that more people can experience wilderness areas. Students join wilderness expeditions. Travelers and local residents gaze at expansive views of undeveloped landscapes. Americans learn about their heritage and dream for the future in wilderness areas across the country.

Listen to wilderness stories from people who are involved with wilderness

Interview with Ed Zahniser - Writer-Editor, NPS Harper's Ferry Center

Well, I got into working for wilderness by accident at birth I guess you’d say. My father, Howard Zahniser, was with the Wilderness Society from a few months before my birth in 1945 and until his death in 1964. So I grew up among the people of the early Wilderness Society and early Wilderness Movement … We spent many summers in the wilderness in the Adirondacks, later in other parts throughout the country. So, and then at age 15, I was able to go to the Sheenjek country in Alaska which was … part of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge with Olaus and Mardy Murie, and then from there we went down to Denali … what’s now Denali National Park; it was Mount McKinley National Park then, with Adolf and Louise Murie. Adolf was in Denali working on his book on Alaska bears at that point. And so we had a couple weeks there, at Mt. McKinley National Park, and that was probably the most influential summer of my life, because from that trip … when I got back to the Washington area, I just went up to the Adirondacks with my mother and siblings for the rest of the summer, so it was a wild summer, but very influential in my future career choices and my continuing interest in wilderness as something that needs to be preserved.

Interview with Ruth Scott - Natural Resource Specialist, Olympic National Park

When I was in high school, I had a science teacher, my biology teacher, Lori Boatmen, who very much loved the mountains and encouraged all of us high school students to go out into the mountains. So actually she and her husband invited me to be assistance for their volunteer work group with the Student Conservation Association. So, when I was just 16, I started working in the Olympic Mountains... I’m a natural resource specialist but I oversee the Wilderness Resources Office, and what we’re responsible for is monitoring the condition of the wilderness to see if there’s impacts from visitors or our own management on wilderness. Also we do restoration work, so we go into areas that have been damaged by overuse and we restore them primarily through revegetation, planting plants that we’ve grown in the park greenhouse.

Interview with Doug Morris - Superintendent, Shenandoah National Park

Wilderness inspires me in two ways … Returning to wilderness is a chance to recharge your batteries and answer the question again, why you are doing what you are doing. I have a second reason … that is that it gives me a chance to meet the people who are inspired by wilderness … Their enthusiasm, their passion and their dedication, sometimes in the face of great odds and poor pay, are by themselves very inspirational.

Interview with James Akerson - Forest ecologist, Shenandoah National Park

I am a forest ecologist at Shenandoah National Park and I organize and manage a traveling team of invasive vegetation experts to assist 12 parks in the mid-Atlantic region … There are several tools that are very effective in controlling nonnative plants. Were not just relegated to using herbicides, herbicides are a very important tool but we really try to go through an integrated pest management approach where we might consider other ways of avoiding the problem before it ever starts. And so surveillance and survey monitoring are very important part of the control program. We utilize manual methods of control either cutting or pulling. Some of the species we do that on are mile a minute weed very effective for puling up those vines, Mullen plants those tall hollyhock looking plants there’s many that pulling is quite effective, cutting with either sheers or nippers or weed whackers can be very effective for things like Japanese silk grass or oriental bittersweet or shrubs that we want to dispose of to improve aesthetics as well and we use prescribed fire to help us. Now of the species at Shenandoah national Park there aren’t opportunities to use fire as a tool of control so much but it certainly does help us get into areas to be able to enact control subsequently. We have many acres that are infested with oriental bittersweet vine and it’s just very difficult to get into those areas to begin spraying or cutting. So putting ground fire through such an area really helps us to be able to get in there and start. So we have those four methods of controls with the surveys to let us know where we need to be working.

Interview with Steve Bair - Backcountry Wilderness and Trails Manager, Shenandoah National Park

My name is Steve Bair, and I’m Shenandoah National Park’s backcountry wilderness and trails manager, a position I’ve held now for about 5 years … I find a lot of rewarding aspects in managing wilderness, for one thing, it’s introduced me to quite a cadre of friends and coworkers who have the same interest who really care about the primitive aspects of wilderness, the value of wilderness, how important wilderness is to the American public, and all of us being involved in the effort of helping other managers who manage wilderness who understand how to manage wilderness better, that’s been a very important part of being part of the wilderness movement, and also knowing that I’m involved in helping to protect a very important part of the American experience.

Interview with Gary Somers - Chief of Natural and Cultural Resources, Shenandoah National Park

I started getting involved in Wilderness just because, in doing the archeological work we were doing in Hawaii, we were working in wilderness areas in Hawaii volcanoes in Haleakala National Parks. So I came to get some familiarity with wilderness there. Then I transferred to Alaska, which is sort of the motherload of wilderness, and you can’t do anything in Alaska without having some appreciation of wilderness or some knowledge of wilderness. So that’s how I started, then I got more involved in wilderness there and then I transferred here and I found out that I was responsible for wilderness and then I applied to get on the National Wilderness Steering Committee and now I am immersed in wilderness.

Interview with Tom McFadden - Outdoor Recreation Planner, Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Hi. I’m Tom McFadden. I’m the Outdoor Recreation Planner at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge located in Morris County, New Jersey… I’ve attended wilderness courses out West and all over, and whenever I go there they want me to give them a program on the wilderness area here. I see people that have just been exposed to western wilderness sit there with their mouth open when I'm showing them slides and telling them what its like back here, back east, because its such, its such a different thing … it’s a much smaller wilderness area. I tell people its 3,660 acres, where out in the west we have wilderness areas that are a million acres. So size is a big difference. Plus the fact that I tell them that its surrounded by urbanization, people’s backyards, roadways and all that, they have a hard time believing that because most of the areas out west that are wilderness areas, well, once you get to the boundary its still wild on the other side.

Interview with Barry Sweet - Backcountry Office Manager, Rocky Mountain National Park

My name’s Barry Sweet and I’m the office manager at the backcountry office for Rocky Mountain National Park … I have great job satisfaction, and view it as a gift to be a park ranger at Rocky Mountain National Park … We have a backcountry inventory and monitoring system, which is a program that’s in place where we evaluate and reevaluate all the campsites in the park on a three year rotating basis. So that we are actually inspecting these campsites, spending time there looking at them not only with pencil and paper answering a specific set of questions, but also with a camera to tell us what’s happening with the trees, because we hang our food with the counterbalance method from bears. Is there erosion on the bark of the branches? What’s happening to the nature of those campsites? Is there what we call site-spread occurring, that the sites are getting bigger? Are they remaining the same? What’s happening to the foliage around them? All of those questions are evaluated every three years on a rotating basis … We actually have documented the progress, or regress, or stasis, of a site and make decisions based on research which we hold as a foundation to National Park Service decision making.

Interview with Wendy Cass - Botanist, Shenandoah National Park

I’m Wendy Cass, and I’m the botanist at Shenandoah National Park and I work on various vegetation monitoring projects, many of which include some work in the wilderness in the park … It’s a long-term effort looking at, in my case, how the forest changes over time. So the monitoring that we do is designed to show us … the characteristics of the forest now, what the forest looks like now and then provide periodic snap shots of how the forest is changing over time. So that serves as an early warning or detection system for changes that are occurring. These could be natural changes, just forest succession, or as is more often the case anthropogenic changes, changes caused by people or exotic insects pests.

Interview with Brian Gilbert - Backcountry Park Ranger, Rocky Mountain National Park

I put on my flat hat, or a ball cap, I put on some jeans, put on my uniform shirt, my badge, and my nameplate and head out into the backcountry with a radio. The ecstatic look I see from visitors who a) have never really seen a ranger in the field before, or b) are just plain happy to see another human being is just great. And it’s just a joy meeting so many people from diverse backgrounds that can all come to Rocky Mountain National Park for the same purpose – to enjoy the backcountry that myself and my coworkers at the backcountry office take so much pride in protecting every single day.

Interview with Terry Terrell - Science Officer, Rocky Mountain National Park

I have the great pleasure of managing the research program here in Rocky Mountain National Park. We have about 70 research permits a year and they’re over a whole wide range of things in the park. There are social science studies. There are people studying history. There are people studying air and water quality, the bighorn sheep populations, bears, and mountain lions. People look at the geology of the park – just a whole wide range of things.

Interview with Larry Fredrick - Chief of Interpretation and Education, Rocky Mountain National Park

Well, as a park interpreter, I sometimes get asked the question, “What language do you speak?” This comes from the standpoint that the visitor thinks of an interpreter as somebody who speaks a foreign language. What I usually refer to is that I as a Chief Interpreter and my staff of park interpreters speak the language of the park. In other words, we know and understand the park resources, the landscape, the cultural history, the background on the natural history, the wildlife. While park visitors come here and think they understand what’s going on in the park, often times they need a little help in understanding what they’re looking at. They may not understand what is going on during the elk rut, but a park interpreter, or materials prepared by park interpreters, might help explain that better. Park visitors may look at a landscape in the park and they may not understand the geological processes that occurred to make the landscape look the way it does today. Our job is to connect people to the park by helping them to understand what they’re looking at.

Interview with Alan Cossa - Volunteer, Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge

Hi, I’m Alan Cossa, and I’m a volunteer at the Great Swamp National Refuge… and I’ve been involved in several different projects at the refuge – the Wood Duck Project which we do during the winter, during the freeze. We change the predator shields, we open up the wood duck boxes, we check on nesting, and record any nesting that has happened during that season. It makes for a great day.

Interview with Meg Weesner - Chief of Resources Management, Saguaro National Park

I’ve been here about 13 years and I coordinate all of the natural and cultural resource management programs. I have a small staff to help me do that but everything from plants, animals, air, water, soils, archeology, and historic sites … Research that we do in the wilderness is oriented towards making sure that our wilderness is in good condition and we’re doing a good job with managing it. Knowing the status of the plants and animals in the wilderness is really key for that. We’re very lucky because the Sonoran Desert parks were one of the first ones selected for implementing the Inventory and Monitoring Program. So Saguaro has had researchers combing all over the place trying to get a thorough inventory of all the vertebrate species and all the vascular plants that we have in the park. They found several new species, which are pretty exciting to us, that we didn’t know we had. Some of them were range extensions that they’d never been found this far north before. So we’re real excited about that and being able to do follow-up monitoring to monitor the status of all those species over time. It’s really important to us as well.

Interview with Brannon Ketcham - Hydrologist, Point Reyes National Seashore

In trying to address road crossings within the wilderness, what we’re looking at is trying to remove the facility within the stream channel and surrounding areas, and restore hydrologic connectivity. So we kind of look at that from a fish’s perspective, so if you’re a fish swimming upstream, do you have to jump 1 foot, do you have to jump 10 feet, to get upstream. There are some facilities in the wilderness that we’ve identified as being barriers to fish passage and are not necessarily compatible to wilderness management goals or objectives that we have. I think one of the major challenges with restoring natural hydrologic process to the wilderness, is doing it in a manner that you treat it once and you’re done with it and in the long-term it will no longer require us to go out and do constant maintenance to keep the facility functioning. We’ll give the system back to the stream or hydrologic process and let those systems prevail.

Interview with John Buchheit - Wilderness Biology Technician, Shenandoah National Park

Some of the rewards are actually the same thing as the challenges. There is physical challenges and physical rewards from having to meet the wilderness on its own terms … the rewards I experience in working with wilderness are the same rewards I’d experience recreating in wilderness. It’s opportunities for solitude, the opportunities to spend time in a relatively undisturbed environment. Those are all rewards.

Interview with Nina Roberts - Education and Outreach Specialist, NPS Natural Resource Program Center

My name is Nina Roberts. I’m an education and outreach specialist with the Natural Resource Program Center with the National Park Service … what I think is important to convey around my experiences with wilderness revolves around my work prior to the Park Service as an outdoor education leader and guide, taking youth groups, mostly all ages but primarily elementary school, high school and a few adult groups into wilderness primarily to understand themselves in context with their own lives … because many of the students that I’ve worked with have never left the boundaries of urban areas and so by first teaching them about their own green spaces in their own backyards, that sense of place where they live and where they have the greatest sense of belonging as incrementally as they go into areas that are more and more remote over time through an overnight camping trip or a two nights or three nights, on to a week-long backpacking trip, it’s the incremental stages that allow students the opportunity to connect with the green spaces of the more remote wilderness areas as what we might define as being more wilderness. They still have to connect to it and they create a sense of relevance for themselves and they begin to understand the connection to their home environment.



Introductory Video Text

Introduction to wilderness

What is wilderness?

Where is wilderness?

Why did U.S. citizens feel the need to legally protect wilderness?

How is wilderness managed?

Who is involved with wilderness today?

Wilderness up close

How can you help?



Wilderness Index

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