How you can help

High visitation in sensitive areas has disrupted the natural systems on which sensitive plants and animals rely. Huge expanses of wilderness have experienced destructive changes because of fire suppression. Invasive species of plants, animals, and insects are invading natural areas and destroying native species in wilderness all across the country. In light of all these issues, it would be easy to become frustrated by the sheer size of these challenges and do nothing. However, you can always do something to help protect and preserve wilderness, and you do not have to visit wilderness to actively protect it. A great way to work for wilderness is to volunteer. You can check with your local land management bureau to see what volunteer projects you can become involved in. You may even decide that working in or for wilderness is the right career path for you.

Wilderness is part of our country’s system of public lands—lands that are set aside for the public and managed by the public. Every citizen has a voice that affects wilderness through local or national government. How are you involved with wilderness? How would you like to be involved with wilderness? Continue reading to learn more about how you can help and about some actual workers for wilderness:

Interview with Laura Gould - Treasurer, "Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge"

My name is Laurel Gould and I am the treasurer with the Friends of Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge here in northern New Jersey. Our friends group is about five years old, established in 1999, entirely made up of volunteers and our main mission is to support the Great Swamp National Swamp Wildlife Refuge in any way that they can use our services. Some of the things that we’ve done include raising money for some viewing scopes at our heron rookery so that the public can have a good, close-up look at the great blue herons. We’ve also done a number of clean-ups, including some in the wilderness area where we pick up manmade debris and take it out so the area goes back to wild. We also do trail maintenance in the wilderness area. We use hand tools, clippers, hammers to put the blazes back up but we try and maintain the character of the wilderness by not using any chainsaws or other automated tools. We also do a number of educational events. We do group tours for schools and scouts, and we also have a number of programs during the year, both in conjunction with the refuge and independent - to help raise public awareness about this incredible resource that is 26 miles from Time Square, is what we say, but a wilderness and a refuge in the middle of an urban area.

Interview with James Akerson - Forest Ecologist, Shenandoah National Park

I would encourage you to contact your local park and see how you might be involved in helping put a stop to the spread of nonnatives and invasives. They are causing big problems and changing both he natural lay out and also effecting archaeological and cultural resources. You know we all like to come to parks, I certainly do, and recreate and to relax but its also very rewarding to come and spend a couple hours, 2 to 4 maybe, of pulling and cutting nonnative plants. Many parks develop programs that could use your help and can really make a difference to help preserve and protect our natural resources.

Careers in Wilderness

Those who work in wilderness get there by following different paths but all have at least one thing in common: tremendous respect and passion for wilderness. Is working in wilderness something you are interested in? Would you like a career in wilderness stewardship? Read about people who are working in wilderness and find out why they wanted to work to keep wilderness wild:

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

Volunteering is really key. For an organization that helps to preserve and to protect the wilderness areas, for an organization that takes groups into the wilderness, whatever it might be … so pursuing … a college degree is a key aspect to help you get into work, also once you start to think about majoring and taking classes in the areas of natural resources or environmental studies, start to explore … different types of jobs because the sky’s the limit when it comes to working in natural resource areas and having a role in wilderness … Any particular position, whether it’s working with high school students in environmental science in a city environment … or being a wilderness ranger and just exploring the backcountry to make sure that the trails are open and accessible and available or being a park manager lots of lots of different opportunities – being a scientist, helping to determine what the impacts and the threats are to wilderness, lot of lot of options there and see what really something that might interest you … getting a seasonal job, for the summer, is another valuable aspect of helping you to get a full-time job once you get your degree … when you’re in college … you should think about doing an internship with an agency that manages wilderness in some capacity it doesn’t even matter what the agency is unless you have a specific area of interest … talk to professionals who are in the field … about the work that they do … So those are a few tips and strategies that might help you to pursue the kind of work that you’re going love and have a passion for the rest of your life.

Interview with Kelly Hartsell - Park Ranger, Shenandoah National Park

If someone wanted to get involved with wilderness or wilderness management or become involved in wilderness preservation there’s a lot of avenues. First of all, four Federal land management agencies, the Park Service, the Forest Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Fish and Wildlife Service – all manage wilderness areas. But outside of government entities, there are volunteer programs such as the Student Conservation Association, and there’s private groups, such as the Wilderness Society, that also look after and manage public lands. So whether you’re a private citizen or a government employee working for a land management agency, there’s all kinds of opportunities to get involved in wilderness, whether it be management or preservation.


The First Step

Building awareness and better understanding is the first step toward addressing the challenges facing wilderness, and by exploring this knowledge center, you have taken that first step! Share what you have learned with your family and friends because our behavior outside wilderness can negatively impact wilderness. The decisions and choices you make every day affect wilderness: Will you use more or less energy? Will you create more or less waste? Given the size of our population, small actions by individuals can make a huge difference. You can remember to turn inside and outside lights off when you are not home or they are not needed. You can ride your bike or take the bus instead of drive a car. You can turn the water off when you are brushing your teeth or lathering up in the shower. You can purchase energy- and water-efficient appliances. You can refuse to buy over-packaged items. By knowing when enough is enough, by exhibiting restraint, by starting right where you live, you can help preserve wilderness for today and tomorrow.

Keep reading to learn more about this important first step and how you can help preserve wilderness.

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

I think people can do two things. One thing is on the state and national level - they can be involved in advocating the preservation of wilderness… But I think also, as Leopold wrote particularly in the second half of his career as a writer, we have to begin to preserve wildness where we live as well, and he does not say that if we do that, we do not need to preserve wilderness. He’s saying that both are important—we need these big wilderness areas for the purposes that he and many others have enumerated of science and recreation and evolutionary record and knowing who we are and where we came from, but that we must learn to keep wildness alive where we live as well because that’s the only true contact we have with who we are because we are products of this world that we live in, and wildness is the picture of the world as it operates by its own will, not by the projection of human desire.

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

People need to know… that it’s a class of land that has been designated by Congress, so it has legal standing, legal protection. But the other thing they need to know is, it is open for people to visit and use, but they also need to know that they need to visit it on very different terms than what they might be used to, even going in to other backcountry areas in National Forests and National Parks. They need to understand that they’re going in on nature’s terms, that they shouldn’t expect quick response, quick rescue. They shouldn’t rely on their cell phones and their GPS units. They should rely on their ability to read maps, retrain, know how to survive if they lose touch with everything that is modern to them.

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

We only have 35 to 40 thousand people who travel overnight and park and then we have tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands more on a day that come here to the park. But even if you don’t travel in the park, there are things that they can do to help preserve wilderness qualities. I know one of the wilderness qualities that may people enjoy is climbing up to the top of a mountain and having a view that stretches off for what seems to be forever. There is serious degradation of our views because of air pollution. People’s actions at home, choices of how much they drive, choices of fuels, and energy conservation, to prevent air pollution is one of the things that people can do whenever they are at home that actually ends up protecting the wilderness. It’s a choice they can make. I think at the most basic level, if somebody wants to be involved in protecting the wilderness if the learn a little bit more about what it is and why it is, and actions they can take if they visit there before they get there to protect the place.

The Next Step

After exploring this knowledge center, you can define wilderness and you know where some wilderness areas are. You have learned about how the National Wilderness Preservation System is managed and about some past and present workers for wilderness. These leaders have provided you with a wonderful legacy and opportunity.

In visiting wilderness you accept the challenges and risks it has to offer. Preparation is the key to both learning and surviving in wilderness. Are you prepared for an unexpected snow storm in July that would make it unsafe for you to travel until it passes? What if you were lost for days? What if you took a short cut and climbed a slope that you realized was too steep - how would you get down? What would you do if you fell? If you are not prepared, not only can you hurt yourself but you can hurt wilderness too. So, if you visit wilderness, follow the seven “Leave No Trace” principles to minimize your impact on these wild places:

Read some personal stories about wilderness and learn how you can minimize your impact when you go into a wilderness area:

Interview with Wendy Cass - Botanist, Shenandoah National Park

This is a story about getting lost in wilderness. Sixteen years ago I was in the North Cascades of Washington state and we were backpacking though the wilderness out there. As part of the trip I was on, we had an opportunity to go on a solo experience, and not many of us chose to do this solo experience. But I went off and did a solo, only a mile and a half away from where the main group was camping. It was a typical North Cascade summer, that is very cool at the higher elevations, and on that particular day there were very low clouds they were still above the height of the peak so I took a topographic map with me and I was using that to navigate my way into this little siquinted squinted valley to do my solo ... As the day progressed the cloud level lowered and covered the tops of all the peaks so that way I could no longer navigate using my map and I did not have a compass with me becaus its so easy to navigate with the peaks usually. And so I was walking back in what I remember to be the right direction and ended up getting lost or temporarily disoriented. And then it got dark because it was the end of the day and it was an overcast day. So it was snowing, dark , and I was definately lost in the wilderness. It was a very educational experience for me, it was the first time and really the only time that I’ve ever experienced panic, not uncontrollable panic, but this feeling of almost uncontrollable panic, that maybe I would never be found and would be out in this wilderness forever ... Eventually I was found and made it back to my group ok. But it’s a real special feeling to be truly lost in an area that big, I I was standing there thinking how confused I was and not knowing which way to go I imagined the immense amount of space around me and that there were no people around me expect for my group that were a few miles in one direction. And it was really awe-inspiring for me.

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

There are many conservation groups that are active nationally, internationally, on the state level, and regionally and all those are worthy of support and any one of those will welcome volunteers and the way to learn is to get involved and find out what needs to be done because that’s the way you teach yourself that there is nothing you don’t know that’s keeping you from doing this. So if you just get involved then you will grow toward, you know, what you probably want to do the most... Go to on the web and start surfing and connecting to the links and see what intrigues you and go for it.



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

Return to Views