Wilderness Fellows Program Engages Youth in Federal Land Management
The 1964 Wilderness Act, all subsequent Federal wilderness legislation, and the policies of the four Federal agencies charged with administering wilderness mandate that the wilderness character of these lands must be preserved. These laws and policy do not, however, provide a definition or guidance for what wilderness character is and how to preserve it. To solve the problem, an interagency team, led by the Forest Service's Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute, published Keeping It Wild. The publication provides definitions and strategies to understand what wilderness character is and how to assess whether agencies are preserving it over time.
To implement this strategy, the Leopold Institute leads a Wilderness Fellows Program to help the agencies develop a baseline assessment of wilderness character and integrate wilderness character into all wilderness planning, management, and monitoring. The Wilderness Fellows Program began in 2010, and, by the end of 2012, a total of 28 wilderness fellows implemented the Keeping It Wild strategy in 34 U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wilderness refuges, 21 National Park Service wilderness parks, and 2 Forest Service wildernesses.
The Wilderness Fellows Program provides many different benefits, which include the following:
- Opportunities to engage a diversity of undergraduate and graduate-level students who are keenly interested in careers in Federal land management. These people will become the next generation of Federal land managers and scientists
- An unprecedented degree of Federal interagency cooperation and coordination, and the resulting increase in efficiency as the agencies work together to implement this program
- An efficient way to develop a baseline assessment of wilderness character at the particular unit and track it over time. This assessment fosters a deeper understanding among agency staff for what wilderness character is, how it can be preserved, and how it can be used to help staff make more informed decisions.
- An objective, comprehensive, and transparent way to evaluate agency accomplishment in fulfilling the congressional mandate and agency policies to preserve wilderness character, thereby improving communication among staff and with the public about the benefits of an enduring resource of wilderness.
Forest Service Partners