The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 105: Thanks Ranger Boyers!

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

Have you ever visited Yosemite Park's Wilderness? If you enjoyed a wilderness experience there, then you have this person to thank. This week on The WildeBeat: Thanks Ranger Boyers.

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News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is program number one oh five, made possible by Wilderness Press.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: Yosemite National Park averaged three and a half million visits in each of the last few years. Yet, less than one and a half percent of those visitors saw anything but the developed five percent of the park. The rest of the park, the wilderness, just doesn't get as much attention.

STEVE: But for the last thirty one years, that wilderness has been cared for in various ways by Ranger Laurel Boyers. Her staff of about thirty does everything to care for the over seven hundred thousand acres of park wilderness. For the past ten years, Ranger Boyers has been the manager of all of Yosemite's wilderness. Park superintendent Mike Tollefson has high praise for her work.

MIKE TOLLEFSON: Well, Laurel's been an absolutely wonderful advocate for wilderness and wilderness use during her entire career, and has managed Yosemite's wilderness in a way that helps protect and preserve the wilderness values and the special nature of Yosemite.

STEVE: Laurel Boyers is retiring from Yosemite on October first. I had the good fortune to talk with her recently about her experiences across the entire span of her career.

LAUREL BOYERS: I was fortunate enough to have my first park service job be a wilderness job. I had been working for the concessioner here, up in Tuolumne Meadows and hiking and climbing in the meadows as a young woman, and found that it was time to change my career, go into the park service and saw that my love as well as my background as well as my family heritage was in the high country of Yosemite. My father had been involved in running the high camps as a young man, and had actually carried me around the high camp loop when I was a baby, so I think I had the wind in my hair as a ...young girl, actually. So when it became time to apply for a park service job, I obviously thought that backpacking and being involved in taking care of the land was something that was both a love and a passion, as well as well as something that I had already done, and was relatively adept at. So, I applied for that job, and was lucky enough to get it. Entry-level was a wilderness permit issuer, backcountry, at that time, backcountry permit issuer in Tuolumne in nineteen seventy six.

STEVE: How long did you do that?

LAUREL BOYERS: I went through the ranks of the permit operation, ...and I don't remember the years exactly, but I ...issued permits in both Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne for probably five years, and the supervisor job opened up, and I was able to apply for, and get that job, and I was the supervisor of the wilderness permit operation for a number of years, and then saw that I wanted to expand my role in wilderness stewardship from that, went through law enforcement training and became a wilderness ranger, and then started supervising the wilderness rangers, and eventually ended up as the wilderness manager about ten years ago.

STEVE: So, ...what did you really have to do when you were issuing permits? There was more than just, fill out a form for people, right?

LAUREL BOYERS: Right. The most important thing we do is help the public understand what their responsibility is. And some of that is strictly educational. How do you take care of the woods, what can you to to prevent impacts... So it's a delicate touch. You have to be able to read the public and understand if they're experienced, how you best reach them. What sort of message might work best for them, so there's a lot of psychology involved in the educational message that we try to get across to folks. It's not just reading a list of regulations because everyone knows that doesn't work. And so you try to find that connection that the public has... There is a capacity component to the permit, so there's just the straight matter of counting. Why the permits are important, there's only a certain amount of people allowed into each trailhead every day, and there's a component of education that goes along with that to make sure people understand why that's important and how it works, and that we're not just trying to bully them around, or whatever... The Wilderness Act wasn't passed at that time but even back in those days we understood that part of wildness included the opportunity to not see a lot of people. The Wilderness Act specifically mandates opportunities for solitude, but even in the early seventies the whole idea of the wilderness permit was to make sure that we weren't having situations like we used to have at Cathedral Lakes where there were two hundred fifty people a night, which is not a great experience for anybody, including the land.

STEVE: And so, I want to skip ahead to your years as a backcountry and wilderness ranger.

LAUREL BOYERS: Well, I was fortunate enough to be, or maybe unfortunate, depending on how you look at it, to be the first mounted female wilderness ranger. So I'd spent many years hiking and backpacking and climbing on foot, and ...because Yosemite's wilderness is almost the size of the state of Rhode Island it is difficult to patrol, it stakes a strong body and to do it all summer long sounds like a lot of fun, but it actually wears you down. And to do the deep patrol we found that's a great tool to have the ability to be able to use a horse and a mule to work with them. And I had done a fair amount of riding, and was shown myself to be trustworthy, I guess, to go back there with a couple of animals, and... it was really an honor to be trusted that way, and I think to be able to set an example to other young women or women in general, sort of a, you know, I'm not a feminist. But to be first in something that requires a little bit more gumph I think was important to me and I think has been helpful as I talk to young women today to say, you know, "you can do this." That kind of thing, so that was a good part of it.

STEVE: So of all those places you were posted back there, if you were going to get to retire to one and live there, which one would you choose?

LAUREL BOYERS: I'd choose them all! I just did my swan song of a sort, and took a trip where I went from Wawona, all the way up through Tuolumne Meadows, taking some of my favorite routes, all the way to that furthest northeast part, and then back down to Hetchy, so rode the entire length of the park. It takes ten days to ride across this park, which is quite interesting. That's not trying to make it longer, or whatever. And I think that's quite an important part of the wildness of this park, to think that you do have to cross a road once, you've got to cross the Tioga Road. But, Aldo Leopold said that wilderness should be big enough to take a week long pack trip. And lo and behold, in Yosemite it takes ten days, at least, to cross it, which is pretty exciting to me.

STEVE: So let's talk then about what your responsibilities have been as the overall wilderness manager in the park.

LAUREL BOYERS: The wilderness manager has a responsibility for the almost ninety five percent of the park that's designated wilderness. Which surprises people; people think that Yosemite is Yosemite Valley, but actually ninety five percent of it is congressionally designated wilderness. And the manager's job, I think most importantly, is to assure that the components that are outlined in the Wilderness Act, the formal, legal policy requirements for the park, are honored and applied as much as possible... and one of the things that wonderful about Yosemite, is the park understands that this is a wilderness park to some extent. We're also very Yosemite Valley centric because that's where the action is in this park. But they have allowed to have ...a whole separate wilderness operation. And, so as the wilderness manager, I'm responsible for operations in that part of the park, but also helping other parts of our administrative function really stay true to the tenets of the Wilderness Act.

STEVE: Best of luck to you on your future, wherever it may lead, and thank you much for your time.

LAUREL BOYERS: My pleasure. It's been a great honor to have this job. I'll be sorry to leave.

STEVE: Park superintendent Mike Tollefson.

MIKE TOLLEFSON: I've known Laurel for quite a while, because she's renowned in the wilderness community... she's been involved nationally in really helping guide and set the direction for wilderness and wilderness values throughout the park system and with other federal agencies as well; the forest service and others.

STEVE: What can you say about the challenge of putting another person into her role?

MIKE TOLLEFSON: Well nobody will fill Laurel's shoes, as it were. She's just been absolutely fabulous. And we hope that whoever comes in behind her takes us to a new place and a new level. We know it'll be different than Laurel... but it'll great to get somebody into that position and move forward and continue to carry the value of wilderness and Yosemite's wilderness specifically for future generations that we look forward to coming and going hiking with us.

STEVE: And I want to give my personal thanks to Ranger Laurel Boyers. Over the years I've been visiting, I never realized the work it took to keep Yosemite's wilderness wild. Thank you for your dedication.

STEVE: Would you like to express your thanks for Ranger Boyer's work, to her, and to our audience? Have you had an experience in Yosemite's wilderness you'd like to share? You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373. You can find an extended high quality version of this show on our web site.

STEVE: This edition was produced with funds provided by our listeners. Also, our thanks to Wilderness Press for their support. A Berkeley-based publisher of outdoor guidebooks and maps for California and beyond, Wilderness Press has been helping people find their way in the outdoors for over forty years. Wilderness press dot com. For a limited time, become a WildeBeat member and get up to five books from Wilderness Press as a thank you gift.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. We need your help to bring you future editions of this free service; please just on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, program number one oh five. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- Sleeping Bags

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