July 11, 2013
Arizona Wilderness Stewards Train to Help U.S. Forest Service Monitor Over
1 Million Acres of Wild Backcountry
Volunteers equipped to monitor and report on wilderness lands on their own time, helping agency save critical fiscal and staff resources.
Contacts: Sam Frank, Central Arizona Director / 928-350-2204
Kate Mackay, Deputy Director / 602-571-2603
MESA – On Saturday July 13th, 30 volunteers from around the state will participate in a comprehensive training with the Arizona Wilderness Coalition (AWC), designed to provide skills and knowledge to help the U.S. Forest Service monitor more than 1 million acres of remote forest wilderness areas in Arizona.
Supported primarily by the National Forest Foundation, AWC’s Wilderness Stewardship Program, dubbed “Wild Stew”, began in 2010 on the Prescott National Forest, when a new partnership with the agency allowed AWC to take groups of volunteers into some of Arizona’s most spectacular wilderness areas—Cedar Bench, Pine Mountain, Castle Creek, and Sycamore Canyon to name a few—to begin monitoring the ecological and recreational conditions of these wild areas. The data is used to help the Forest Service improve management decisions, enhance ecological health, and maintain the wilderness character of each area.
Since Wild Stew’s inception, AWC volunteer stewards have worked in 25 wilderness areas (some areas multiple times), monitored over 300 miles of trails and 50 miles of waterways, installed trail signs, removed multiple acres of non-native plants, and involved more than 250 volunteers in various projects for a total of more than 4,300 volunteer hours. The monetary equivalent of all this volunteer work is $96,000, or approximately two full-time employees being paid $25.00 per hour.
“This is a chance for people to give back to our public lands while doing something they already love—being outdoors,” says Sam Frank, AWC’s central Arizona director who leads the Wild Stew program. “There are 90 wilderness areas in Arizona and thousands of residents who appreciate and enjoy them. It makes sense to connect those people with these remarkable wild lands with mutual benefits for both.”
Saturday’s training is designed to empower individual wilderness stewards to trek solo into wilderness areas, monitor conditions, and collect data on their own—submitting their findings to the Arizona Wilderness Coalition staff, who then incorporate it into recommendations for the Forest Service. In supplemental trainings, individual stewards receive instruction on wilderness philosophy and history, federal wilderness management policy, field monitoring protocols and techniques, first aid, backcountry travel preparedness, and more. Today, AWC has trained approximately 50 individual stewards to begin monitoring at wilderness areas on the Prescott, Coconino, and Tonto National Forests.
As an agency partner, AWC has presented its Wilderness Stewardship Program’s protocols at the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center events multiple years in a row, highlighting the organization’s ability to help agencies maintain vigilance over remote wilderness lands in Arizona. At this year’s Carhart training in April, 50 agency officials from the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, National Park Service, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service learned about creative ways to partner with nonprofit volunteer organizations like AWC.
“They are an increasingly valuable resource that significantly expands our capacity to complete critical work on the ground and fulfill our obligations as stewards of the National Wilderness Preservation System,” says Ken Straley, USFS representative at the Arthur Carhart National Wilderness Training Center in Missoula, Mont. “I especially like to showcase the capabilities and accomplishments of organizations like AWC because it motivates course participants to explore partnership opportunities where they work.”
AWC’s Wilderness Stewardship Program is part of a broader partnership effort with the U.S. Forest Service—called the 10-Year Wilderness Stewardship Challenge—meant to improve the wilderness character and conditions of its wild backcountry lands across the nation. In an era of tight fiscal budgets and minimal field staff to complete labor-intensive work such as non-native plant removal, recreation site mitigation, and trail brushing, AWC’s Stewardship Program serves a critical role in the agency’s broader management regime for backcountry lands—many of which see high visitation and damage near congested urban areas like Phoenix and Tucson. In the national point system used by the Forest Service, Arizona’s wilderness ratings were some of the lowest in the country several years ago. However, with AWC’s assistance on the Prescott National Forest for example, all eight of that forest’s wilderness areas are now at or above passing scores for the 10- Year Wilderness Stewardship Challenge.
“Our goal all along with Wild Stew is to assist the Forest Service in better managing these iconic, ecologically invaluable wild places so that they continue to give back to the people and economy of Arizona,” says Les Corey, AWC’s executive director in Tucson. “While helping the agencies care for these areas, we’re also building lasting appreciation among scores of Arizona citizens to be responsible stewards of their public lands and advocate for protecting wild places.”