The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
The WildeBeat edition 103: Ranger Changes, part 2
This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.
Since the beginning of Wilderness protection in the U.S., wilderness ranger's jobs have seen some changes. But it turns out that it's us who've changed the most. This week on The WildeBeat: Ranger Changes, part two.
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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.
This is program number one oh three.
I'm Steve Sergeant.
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STEVE: The job of taking care of a wilderness area, and those people who visit it, is typically the responsibility of a wilderness ranger. A wilderness ranger was historically, and still is, a person with a wide range of physical and academic skills.
GREGG FAUTH: Certainly some real necessary requirements would be obviously in great physical shape...
STEVE: Gregg Fauth is the Wilderness Coordinator for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. Gregg has been working at the park since the early nineteen eighties.
GREGG FAUTH: ...because these folks work really hard under some pretty severe conditions. So probably the first thing they do is educate people, and the second thing they do would be provide assistance in emergencies.
STEVE: Do you think the balance between interpretive and stewardship roles, and the flip side of that coin, the emergency services and the law enforcement roles has changed over your career?
GREGG FAUTH: I don't really think the balance has changed too much. I think sort of the expectations of what we might want a backcountry ranger to do -- certainly they need to be able to fulfill the interpretive role or the education role, and the National Park Service, we tend to want to educate visitors before we punish them for any transgression... and it may escalate to a law enforcement situation where a ticket is issued, but generally we do still need to hit hard on that education. So that's kind of changed, and the stewardship role, you speak about it, is still there but I think it's sort of changed a little bit. You know, in the old days it might just simply involve cleaning up camps and rerouting a trail maybe that's ...had some erosion in a bad area. These days though it might involve going out and actually surveying campsites, utilizing G-P-S, doing surveys of particular wildlife in a scientific manner. So some of the same things are there but we're just doing them in a more involved manner, and maybe a bit more scientific which then requires some additional training and additional skills and knowledges.
STEVE: Laurel Boyers at Yosemite says that the rangers these days are managing places that aren't quite as isolated and wild as they were a few decades earlier.
LAUREL BOYERS: We do have to be aware that, for instance, ...if we get into the habit of using helicopters all the time, if we get into not being aware of the cumulative effects of installations that we put in for, for instance, research or whatever, that we may loose that value of wildness. And it's all for a very good reason, you know... Wildernesses are the great laboratories of the world, really, because they have been mandated to be unchanged. But every time we put in a device that measures the change to, you know, water quality, or P-H, or whatever it is that we're measuring back there, we take a bite out of the wildness. And if we're not careful, all of a sudden, it's not going to be wild back there. That you can already go into some of the ...most remote parts of this park and run into some sort of scientific instrument that's there for a very good reason, but it's still a scientific instrument that's back there.
STEVE: But the greatest changes, from the ranger's point of view, might not be to the wilderness itself. Don Mason is a backcountry patrol ranger for the Lassen National Forest.
DON MASON: What I'm seeing, at least in our particular wilderness, is that we're getting a lot more clientele that come in that are less experienced, but with the suggestions, and by my influence of discussing no trace, fire safety, and so forth, they seem to be coming away with a much more positive experience.
STEVE: But if wilderness visitors are having better experiences, sometimes, at least, it's because they're more dependent on the rangers. Don thinks the average person is going into the wilderness with less training and fewer wilderness travel and survival skills.
DON MASON: Last year my boss came across two teenagers from the Burney area that were totally unprepared for a wilderness experience. They had no water, no sleeping bags, and the parents just dropped them off at the trailhead and were going to pick them up the next day... A lot of people do not realize that you're in a wilderness area and there are not a lot of support services available.
GREGG FAUTH: I think people, especially from the emergency standpoint, they have a stronger expectation that that service is back there. You know, folks bring their cell phones and if they can get coverage they may dial nine one one for some relatively minor problems, and they tend to want that assistance. You know, this is somewhat just my personal feeling, but twenty five years ago folks tended to be a little more ready to assist themselves in getting out of the wilderness if there was a problem. I think folks now tend to sort of look a bit quicker toward the ranger to provide them some level of assistance for what ever problems they're having.
LAUREL BOYERS: They're spending less time back there, and so they are having a sort of a quicker more comfortable tour thanks to improvements in technology. I think that ...they are more dependent on their technology to get them out of a scrape. In other words, they have better tents, so they don't have to watch the weather as closely. They don't have to watch, for instance, their route as closely on the ground because they can always dial-up their satellite and find their location from that. So they're prepared in a different way. They're certainly not as prepared if they were -- [laughs] If they were stuck out there naked, they're probably be less prepared, because I think they're morer dependent on their equipment than people used to be. People used to be tougher. Clearly the mountain men were way tougher than I am.
STEVE: Steve Zachary is the education specialist for Lassen Volcanic National Park.
STEVE ZACHARY: They think with their GPS device and their cell phone that everything will be fine, no matter what situation they get themselves into. And also, they think that their gear can take them anywhere and do anything... And we see this where people, they have a lot of good equipment, they don't necessarily have the knowledge to use that equipment in circumstances of say, bad weather, or if they get lost, or, you know, to really understand that they're going into a place that can be a gentle wilderness, but overnight it can turn into a situation where it can be a survival wilderness.
STEVE: And that brings us to some of the latest of devices, like the personal locator beacons that sort of give you an instant nine one one back there.
LAUREL BOYERS: Which I think is really sad. I think that takes much of the wildness out of it. And I'm very sorry for that... When you talk to peple about -- you ask somebody to tell you their best wilderness experience, what was the coolest trip you ever took, invariably, they'll tell you a story of surviving something. Of something that really stretched them out, that really tested their mettle, you know, tested who they were, and made them really proud and got the endorphins going, and got them all pumped up. It's not the time that you look down at your thing and said, you know, "come get me, I just twisted my ankle", or whatever. It's, "I toughed it out and I made it off the hill and I had to drag myself on my injured ankle," ...or, "it poured and I had this horrendous creek crossing." Or, you know, whatever is was, it was something that really tested them, and that is so key to why wilderness is important to our heart and soul and spirit, because it provides a place where we're really more at one with nature... Now we're living in boxes, we drive around in boxes, we stay in boxes, we're very insulated from the natural world. And the more we use technology to insulate ourselves while we're out there, the more we loose in my opinion.
STEVE: What do you expect from wilderness rangers? Do you think today's wilderness visitors are less skilled? What skills do you think we should expect today's wilderness visitors to have? And what skills do you think we at the WildeBeat should be encouraging people to learn? You can let us know what you think anytime, by calling our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373.
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This has been The WildeBeat, program number one oh three. Thank you for listening.
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Next time -- It's Soup.