Education & Communication

August 2015 | Volume 21, Number 2


In the previous issue of IJW, we discussed the need to increase the professionalism of wilderness stewardship and identified a number of ways that professionalism could be enhanced. Several of the requisites of professional stewardship involve ensuring that talented individuals are in federal land management stewardship positions, that these individuals get the training required to effectively fulfill their responsibilities, and that there is a career ladder that gives these individuals an opportunity to advance into higher leadership roles. The Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center (ACNWTC) has been working for the past 20 years on these issues, efforts that recently have been assisted by other groups, most notably the Society for Wilderness Stewardship.

A decade ago, the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center identified the technical core competencies and the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed by wilderness stewards (Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center n.d.). These were adopted by all four U.S. federal land management agencies as the official competencies for wilderness stewardship, to be used to guide employee development, direct competency-based training programs, and support a wilderness career path. Although these competencies have been used to improve employee development and training, the wilderness career ladder remains broken. A report by the USDA Forest Service Wilderness Advisory Group (2013) describes the problems that result from lack of a career ladder, explores reasons the ladder remains broken, and, most importantly, offers recommendations that can guide future efforts to fix the problem, most of which involve changing procedures involved in the hiring and promotion of qualified employees. It is long past time to come together as a wilderness community and get this fixed.

As we look toward the future, mastery of foundational field skills, coupled with social and natural science knowledge and the ability to connect with diverse audiences will be essential to fulfill the Wilderness Act of 1964’s mandate to preserve wilderness character and other wilderness conditions and values. How can we ensure that those individuals charged with stewarding wilderness have the knowledge and skills they need? Many professions ensure the competency of professionals through a certification program. Emulating this approach, the ACNWTC and Society for Wilderness Stewardship have partnered with the Eppley Institute for Parks and Public Lands at Indiana University to create the Wilderness Stewardship Certificate Program (WSCP). The WSCP is an online certification program where participants receive one-on-one mentoring provided by experts in the field of wilderness stewardship. The mentors guide the students through the series of courses, assist in selecting wilderness study sites, and provide feedback and evaluation.

Finally, wilderness professionals need to continuously hone their knowledge and skills by having access to training and continuing education. This is the central mission of the ACNWTC, which has worked over the past several decades to develop toolboxes on, online training courses, and classes that target federal agency employees. Recently, these efforts have been enhanced by training that the Society for Wilderness Stewardship has assisted with, such as the 50th anniversary preconference training, the Wilderness Skills Institute in North Carolina, and the interagency wilderness ranger academy in north-ern California. The Society seeks to extend, rather than duplicate, the role of the ACNWTC by focusing more on field skills and training future wilderness leaders.


DAVID N. COLE and LINDA MERIGLIANO are board members of the Society for Wilderness Stewardship; email: dncole.


Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center. N.d. Wilderness technical core competencies. Retrieved from

USDA Forest Service Wilderness Advisory Group. 2013. The Forest Service wilderness career ladder: In search of the missing rungs. Retrieved from ladder.pdf.