Saturday, June 8, 2019

Wilderness Stewardship Training

“The legacy of the Wilderness Act is a legacy of care. It is the act of loving beyond ourselves, beyond our own species, beyond our own time. To honor wildlands and wild lives that we may never see, much less understand, is to acknowledge the world does not revolve around us. The Wilderness Act is an act of respect that protects the land and ourselves from our own annihilation."
-Terry Tempest Williams

Last spring I was invited to help teach at the Region 6 (Forest Service region that includes Oregon and Washington) Wilderness Stewardship Training. Teachers were Wilderness workers from around the region.

This was a 3 day event where each attendee chose one of the 5 classes. Kyle, a Wilderness Ranger from the Leavenworth ranger district and I taught the course on visitor contacts. We were teaching first year paid Forest Service Wilderness Rangers as well as Americorp interns and volunteers.

Superficially, visitor contacts can appear to be quite simple. Once you have a system, most of them are, but there's actually a lot to consider that we taught in our course. Some topics covered:

-Visitor contacts are not simply about the people you talk to directly (active contacts). They also consist of the people you don't talk to, who simply see you from say across a lake, because people's behavior changes when they know an authority figure is present (inactive contacts). Conversely your behavior must always reflect your agency and job because you may be being observed by the public even when you aren't aware of it.
-Visual presentation, body language and positioning
-Overview of Leave No Trace principles and connecting common Wilderness visitor issues with each principle
-General talking points and tailoring them to the management concerns of your Wilderness, supplemental talking points by using visual clues of visitors that can guide your conversation, local/site specific talking points where current conditions like weather or known habituated animals can guide talking points.
-Gathering information from visitors about their experience and what they have witnessed on their trip and how you can use that information
-Personal safety concerns and managing difficult people
-Special consideration when talking to stock users
-Importance of knowing local regulations and that every Wilderness has different laws that are enforceable. Knowing how a regulation was posted or available to the visitor before going into an enforcement contact.
-Most common misunderstandings by public (understanding elevation fire bans vs. wildfire season fire bans, packing out TP and compostable materials, lack of knowledge of sensitive plants, purpose of Wilderness permits, concerns with not burying human waste)

It's always a joy to connect with Wilderness staff from other ranger districts and Forests. The Wilderness program on my district is small so it's nice to have events like this where I can move out of my bubble and have conversations about different management styles and programs and get ideas for how my district can improve ours.

The staff and students of the 2018 Pacific Northwest Wilderness Stewardship Training