Sipsey Wilderness waterfall

Wild South’s Volunteer

Wilderness Rangers

The National Wilderness Preservation System, chartered by the Wilderness Act of 1964, is emblematic of the value that the majority of Americans accord to wild places. As of 2016, 765 wilderness areas, totaling over 109 million acres, have been designated for protection. 445 of these areas are managed by the US Department of Agriculture Forest Service.

One thing the legislation did not do, however, was provide for the funding necessary to protect this rich natural legacy through conscientious management. Many wilderness areas are threatened by climate change, non-native invasive species and overuse, while shrinking budgets seriously inhibit the management agencies’ ability to mitigate these threats.

Wild South believes that protecting our wild places goes beyond seeing them designated for preservation. Following in the footsteps of like-minded groups across the country, we are actively stewarding some of these national treasures. With assistance from the National Forest Foundation, and in partnership with the US Forest Service, Wild South has recruited, trained and equipped a dedicated group of volunteers to serve as wilderness rangers in all three of Alabama’s Forest Service managed wilderness areas, Sipsey, Cheaha, and Dugger Mountain.

By national standards, these wilderness areas are small, totaling only 42, 218 acres, but they receive a lot of recreational use, especially the Sipsey and Cheaha Wildernesses. None have a dedicated full time wilderness ranger, so visitors rarely encounter wilderness managers, and trails and campsites receive inadequate maintenance and care. While Wild South has maintained several wilderness trails in the Sipsey since 2009 through its Helping Hands program, there has been an absence of regular wilderness patrols.

wilderness_rangers_2Wild South’s Volunteer Wilderness Rangers remedy that deficiency. Their main objective is to inform wilderness users about the areas’ unique qualities and educate visitors about the responsibility we all share to protect the wild character of these special places.  They inform visitors about the Leave No Trace ethic and  encourage them to follow LNT techniques. Wilderness rangers also perform light trail maintenance and litter pick up, naturalize campsites and document areas needing more extensive work.

Volunteer wilderness rangers collect visitor use data on their regular patrols, enabling wilderness managers to make informed decisions.  Also, wilderness patrols during periods of high use, such as on weekends, give wilderness users more support in emergency situations.  Our volunteer rangers are trained in First Aid and CPR, and they are equipped with Forest Service radios.

Volunteer wilderness rangers in the Sipsey Wilderness have been heading up work crews the last few winters to remove heavy privet populations near trails and streams that were identified in our non-native invasive plant species inventory in 2009 and 2010. This is the perfect follow-up to that inventory, which identified privet as the biggest threat to native plant populations there.

We would like to thank the National Forests in Alabama for their enthusiastic support of this initiative. We are grateful for the help and advice of wilderness stewardship groups in Colorado, which have had successful programs of this type in place for several years. We are also grateful to the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance for providing the inspiration for this initiative. Thanks also to the National Forest Foundation for their funding, to the Midland Radio Corporation for help in acquiring the portable radios we needed for the program, and to our member donors for their ongoing support of our conservation initiatives. Last, and certainly not least, thanks to our volunteers, who with an immense contribution of energy, effort and time have made this stewardship vision a reality.


  1. Wayne Hannah on April 4, 2014 at 11:51 pm

    How do you volunteer to be a wilderness ranger? I am an Eagle Scout and current volunteer with the Cherokee Area Council BSA in Chattanooga. I am also a certified LNT Trainer and will be completing my LNT Master Educators course next week. I am a native East Tennessean from Roane and Hamilton County.

    I am interested in finding out if my skills and services would be of assistance in this endeavor.

    Look forward to hearing from you

    Wayne Hannah

  2. […] GET OUTSIDE! – Want to get involved, steward your public lands and get to know the Cheaha Wilderness? Then get involved and join up with Wild South’s Volunteer Wilderness Rangers. Find out more HERE! […]

  3. Neal Ferguson on March 7, 2015 at 5:33 pm

    Would like info on becoming volunteer ranger for Alabama.

  4. Ben Prater on March 18, 2015 at 10:58 am

    Please contact

  5. […] and non-native invasive species survey and control projects, to the establishment of a team of Volunteer Wilderness Rangers, who provide stewardship services in all three Alabama wilderness areas, we have earned the respect […]