April 2015 | Volume 21, Number 1

In the December 2014 issue of IJW, we discussed the importance of developing a community of practice to the professionalism of wilderness stewardship. In this issue, we explore other ways that professionalism can be enhanced. Although the professionalism of wilderness stewardship has increased since passage of the Wilderness Act, the challenges to effective stewardship have also grown. Unless professionalism can be enhanced dramatically, wilderness conditions, values, and character are likely to degrade in the face of increasing population, global anthropogenic impact, and value conflicts. Professionalism begins with ensuring that talented individuals are in stewardship positions. But having “boots on the ground” is not enough. Opinions about how best to respond to stewardship challenges have become increasingly divergent, polarized, and politicized. Wilderness stewards need to know what they should do and need the ability, motivation, and support to do what they should do. This suggests the following agenda for enhancing the professionalism of wilderness stewardship:

• Funding and resources need to be increased, so they are adequate to place professionals in the field and enable them to accomplish what needs to be done. Too many wildernesses lack field staff, and there are too many cases in which stewards cannot do what needs to be done, such as implement a use limitation program, because they have insufficient resources.

• A wilderness stewardship career ladder must be created. Without a career ladder, investments in training and experiential knowledge are lost as wilderness stewards leave their jobs in order to be promoted, and those in wilderness leadership positions lack extensive wilderness experience.

• Institutional commitment to wilderness stewardship needs to be increased, to ensure an adequate wilderness staff, and to provide stewards with the resources and political support to do the right thing. The importance of professionally stewarding the wilderness resource must be elevated in agency culture and practice, where it is too often missing from agency priorities and desired outcomes.

• More meaningful policy and guidance regarding wilderness stewardship practices and outcomes must be developed. When faced with controversial issues, such as whether to limit use or to intervene in ecosystem processes to mitigate human impact, individual wilderness managers are often left to decide what is appropriate based on their personal opinions and value systems, and administrative and political pressures. With more specific agency policy and guidance, stewardship would be more consistent and effective.

• The capacity to conduct wilderness stewardship research and provide training in best stewardship practices must be increased. In the United States, this could be accomplished by working to see that the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute and Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center are staffed and funded as originally intended. Academic institutions should also be encouraged and given resources to engage in wilderness research and training.

Enhanced professionalism in wilderness stewardship is critical to ensuring that we move beyond mere wilderness designation to true wilderness preservation. The Society for Wilderness Stewardship seeks to address this need by organizing a community of practice that can work to implement the changes outlined here.

DAVID COLE is a board member for the Society for Wilderness Stewardship; email: EDUCATION & COMMUNICATION