Tuesday, May 26, 2020
Wanted-Wilderness Stewards Who Love the Land
A couple of wilderness stewards learn to remove all traces of an illegal fire ring.
Thursday, May 2, 2019


They packed out motorcycle parts that had been strewn around Baker Lake for years. They dismantled what appeared to be a kitchen someone had set up in the woods near Yellowbelly Lake. They picked up 613 pounds of bottles and other trash.

And they extinguished an abandoned fire at Sawtooth Lake that had jumped its ring.

They are the 41 individuals and groups who volunteered in the Wilderness Stewards program during the summer of 2018.

“It’s amazing that they packed out 600 pounds of trash last year, in addition to all the other work they did,” said Tom Winter, wilderness and trails coordinator for the Sawtooth National Recreation Area. “It’s something to be proud of because, if they hadn’t removed it, it would simply still be there. They really are helping to make our wilderness areas a better place. And it’s great to see so many people dedicated to preserving our wildlands.”

The Idaho Conservation League is gearing up for its fourth Wilderness Steward program. All it needs is outdoor enthusiasts who hike, backpack, ride horses or kayak and want to expend a little extra energy conserving the lands they love while out there.

ICL representatives and SNRA rangers will hold a training session for wilderness stewards on Sunday, June 9. Then the stewards will be cut loose to roam the trails from June 10 through Nov. 1.

In short, they’re asked to be the eyes and ears of the Forest Service.

They’ll take note of trail conditions and camping areas as they hike through Central Idaho’s wilderness. They’ll report back to the ICL when they spot downed logs across the trail that need removed or infestations of noxious weeds. They also are asked to count the number of hikers and bicyclists they see, report wildlife sightings, pick up trash when they can and remove traces of illegal campfires.

Early in the season they’ll alert rangers to high water crossings and snow on the trails so rangers can warn others about them.

Those who feel comfortable doing so are also invited to chat with campers about Leave No Trace principles, monitor Central Idaho’s dark sky and even collect water samples to determine the amount of acidification in streams.

Wilderness stewards are asked to commit to four patrols during summer and fall. They can visit a different area on each patrol or return to the same place multiple times.

The areas involved in the program include the Hemingway-Boulders, Jim McClure-Jerry Peak, Cecil D. Andrus-White Clouds and Sawtooth Wilderness areas. Last year the program expanded to include proposed wilderness areas in the Salmon-Challis National Forest. And this year it has expanded again to include areas in the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.

The Craters of the Moon addition was the suggestion of Ranger Ted Stout, who participated as a wilderness steward last summer, said Emily Williams, who tracks wilderness stewards’ activities.

“They have a small wilderness area,” she added.

The Wilderness Steward program was started by Betsy Mizell, the executive director for ICL’s Ketchum office, in 2016 after she was dismayed to find burnt food packaging and aluminum foil in fire rings while hiking in the White Cloud Wilderness north of Ketchum.

Realizing the Forest Service has dwindling resources with which to maintain trails, she worked with Sawtooth National Forest rangers to set up a volunteer program.

Such programs are becoming more and more valuable because of the sheer numbers of people stepping foot in wilderness areas, said Sawtooth National Forest Ranger Christine Melvin. When the Wilderness Act was instituted in 1964, restricting man’s ability to impact wild places with strip mining and roads, four million people recreated in wilderness areas. By 2000 thirty million people were visiting wilderness areas.

The first year 19 individuals and groups took part, picking up 200 pounds of trash as they provided an estimated $97,000 worth of services for the Forest Service.

Last year’s 41 stewards went on 166 patrols said Emily Williams, who works with the ICL in Ketchum. They spent 1,400 hours hiking and backpacking as they took stock of the land. In addition to extinguishing the abandoned campfire, they destroyed and naturalized 102 fire rings that were in places they shouldn’t have been and cleaned 87 others.

“They covered an enormous amount of territory and it was great to read trip reports saying there wasn’t all that much to do—that someone else had already been there and helped it clean it up,” said Williams. “They’re a huge part of why this area is such a special place to live and recreate in.”

Among last year’s patrollers was Josh Johnson. He went on a multi-day trip to Bowery Guard Station where he removed barbed wire fencing that impeded wildlife in prime wildlife habitat in the East Fork of the Salmon River.

“It was old and really nasty both for us and the wildlife,” he said.

Applicants must be 18 or older and have first-aid experience. But several families, including Randy and Karis Kemp, have included their children as patrollers, and they’ve proven enthusiastic and capable.

Last year Pam Doucette took her fifth-graders on a four-hour patrol along Murdock Creek behind SNRA.

“That’s six future stewards,” said Mizell. “They naturalized four fort-like structures and one fire ring and packed out one ounce of trash, including toilet paper.”

At the June 9 training stewards will be taught such skills as how to monitor the dark sky in the Central Idaho Dark Sky Reserve. They also will be provided maps, name tags, work gloves, a trash collection kit and a write-in-the-rain notebook.

Those who are interested should fill out an application at

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSeKqiFVJXbf0mXkxUoJ-l1w2CRIXDNACc67l35cWw1aTl4lBw/viewform by Wednesday, May 15.

For more information, call 208-726-7485.


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