The USDA Forest Service in Alabama manages three federally designated wilderness areas, Sipsey, Cheaha, and Dugger Mountain, totaling 41,450 acres. For the past several years, Forest Service budgets have afforded only one part-time wilderness ranger for all three areas and an occasional intern. Meanwhile, visitor use has skyrocketed, especially in Cheaha and Sipsey, turning these federally designated wild places into recreation areas rather than wilderness areas during certain times of the year.
For this reason, in 2011, Wild South entered into a partnership with the Forest Service and established a corps of trained and dedicated volunteer wilderness rangers for all three of Alabama’s wilderness areas. These volunteers provide all the services of a Forest Service wilderness ranger except for law enforcement.
Our volunteer wilderness rangers are trained in wilderness law, local wilderness regulations, the wilderness ethic, Leave No Trace, CPR and First Aid, the Authority of the Resource, radio and GPS use, as well as crosscut saw and traditional tool training if so desired by the volunteer. All volunteer activities support USFS management goals and are covered under the USDA Volunteers in National Forests (VIF) program, protecting volunteers from tort claims and costs associated with personal injury. Volunteer rangers always patrol in pairs, and they are provided with all the equipment they need to perform their duties as a ranger.
Field work involves walking the wilderness area hiking trails, documenting trail conditions, performing light trail maintenance, picking up litter, naturalizing campsites and dispersing fire rings. They engage wilderness visitors when encountered and encourage voluntary compliance with wilderness regulations when violations are observed. Their primary purpose is to educate and inform wilderness users and encourage personal responsibility for preserving wilderness character.
Rangers schedule their field days ahead of time and complete reports detailing their time and activities in the Wilderness, i.e. number of visitors encountered, miles of trail inspected, trash removal or trail maintenance work conducted, etc. These reports are regularly submitted to the Forest Service. A commitment of 1-2 days per month (average over the course of a year) is desired. Rangers need to be in good physical condition, as this is a physically demanding activity. Enjoyment of hiking, love of nature, good social skills and an abiding sense of the fundamental value of our wild places are necessary qualities.
To learn more about the volunteer wilderness ranger program and meet and speak with some of our rangers, plan to attend the Cheaha Wilderness 30th Anniversary Celebration on March 23. If you think you might be interested in joining our ranger team, email Janice or call our Alabama office at 256-974-6166. Our wilderness areas need you!
Read an overview of the Volunteer Wilderness Ranger job duties HERE.