Wilderness Internship in the Bitterroot Wilderness, USA

What does a Wilderness Ranger do?

Our colleague Verena Gruber is currently a Wilderness Ranger Intern with the Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation in the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Montana and Idaho, USA. During her first weeks there she attended numerous trainings as well as the Northern Rockies Wilderness Skills Institute.

Verena WIlderness Internship USA-24413 © European Wilderness Society
Verena WIlderness Internship USA-24413 © European Wilderness Society

What are the tasks of a Wilderness Ranger Intern?

The Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation connects the surrounding communities through Wilderness Stewardship bringing people into Wilderness to work, live and play. An important task of the foundation is the support of the managing federal agencies, in this case the Forest Service, to steward the Selway-Bitterroot and Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness across Idaho and Montana.

Verena WIlderness Internship USA-24415 © European Wilderness Society

A Selway Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation Wilderness Ranger Intern supports Forest Service Wilderness Rangers in their everyday tasks when being on a hitch, a multi-day trip, in the Wilderness. The crews patrol the Wilderness, maintain and restore trails and perform campsite and solitude monitoring. Personal contact with visitors as well as educating them, for example about proper Leave No Trace practices, are also important parts of the work of Wilderness Ranger Interns.

Please also read: https://Wilderness-society.org/Wilderness-ranger-academy-2018-in-new-mexico/

Hands-on trainings in a historical setting

The Wilderness Ranger Internship started with nearly 4 weeks of training. Main topics where the theoretical and practical foundations of Wilderness Stewardship practices. The first two weeks of training took place in the historical Powell Ranger Station at the edge of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness in Idaho. The station is located on one of the campsites used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in 1805.

Please Download info on the LEWIS &CLARKON THE LOLO TRAIL

A theoretical and practical introduction to trail maintenance and building was the major topic of the first week. The interns learned the correct safe handling of the different primitive tools used for trail work, such as cross-cut saws, axes, pulaskis, pick mattocks and shovels. One day of the training dealt with working with pack stock, horses and mules.

Verena WIlderness Internship USA-24412 © European Wilderness Society

Northern Rockies Wilderness Skills Institute

The Northern Rockies Wilderness Skills Institute formed the second week of training for the interns. This 5-day skills institute is the Northern Rockies counterpart of the Wilderness Ranger Academy of Region 2 and 3. The Institute was organised by Region 1 of the Forest Service and several partner organisations, such as the Selway-Bitterroot Frank Church Foundation and the Montana Conservation Corps. The partner organisations support the Forest Service with the implementation of their Wilderness Stewardship in the field. This particularly means with the maintenance of trails and monitoring work.

Participants were able to choose from several courses, such as Introduction to Wilderness Stewardship, Advanced Wilderness Stewardship, Advanced Crosscut Saw – C-Level, Defensive Horsemanship, Wilderness First Aid or Trails. The Wilderness Ranger Interns dove deep into Wilderness Stewardship and learned more about the history of the Wilderness Act, the cornerstones of Wilderness Stewardship and the qualities of Wilderness. Other lessons dealt with Orienteering, hitch preparation, basic backcountry skills, such as knots, bear safety and Leave No Trace. Lectures about Wilderness Values, Wilderness Fire Management and Minimum Requirement Analysis offered an insight to the complex work of Wilderness stewards. Topics like Campsite and Solitude Monitoring were taught in field lessons. Public Interactions with visitors according to the system of Authority of the Resource were practiced within groups with the help of scenarios.


Our colleague’s presentation of the European Wilderness Society and the similarities and differences between the American and European Wilderness concept opened up interesting discussions for the last evening. In the course of this summer, our colleague will be able to experience the implementations of these similarities and differences first hand.

Verena WIlderness Internship USA-24417 © European Wilderness Society

A first look into the work of a Wilderness Ranger

The 3rd week of training dealt with tool maintenance and an introduction to local invasive species and their correct handling. The majority of the Wilderness Ranger Interns then went through a Wilderness First Responder course. The rest went on their first hitch and spent 4 nights in the Wilderness.

What’s up next?

The 9 Wilderness Ranger Interns will be split up in three groups and start their first 10-day hitch in the coming days. The main tasks will be to clear trails from fallen trees and to determine other potential repair work that has to be done on trails. Monitoring campsites in the Wilderness will also be done by some crews. Our colleague will be roaming the Bitterroot mountains of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness with two other interns and one Forest Service Wilderness Ranger.


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Sign the Open Letter to the German Ministry

Join more than 70 forest experts demanding a radical change in the German forest management system.

Open Letter to the German Ministry of Food and Agriculture

Federal Ministry of
Food and Agriculture
Minister Julia Klöckner
11055 Berlin

Dear Minister Klöckner,

The current situation of the forest in Germany is worrying. It is a forest crisis not only driven by climate change. The current crisis management of the forestry industry is backward-looking and harmful to the forest. The declaration announced at the meeting of ministers in Moritzburg can be described as a `Moritzburg declaration of bankruptcy´. We call on the state forestry industry to, instead of expensive rushed actions, finally carry out an expert analysis of its own work and to involve all stakeholders in this process. What is called for is a consistent departure from plantation forestry and a radical shift towards a management that treats the forest as an ecosystem and no longer as a wood factory.

On 1stAugust 2019, five forestry ministers of CDU and CSU-led states adopted a so-called “master plan” for the forest in Germany, which was affected by heat, bark beetles, fire and drought. As of 2020, the federal government is to make 800 million euros available as a reaction to climate change. This money is to be used to repair the damage caused, reforest the damaged areas and carry out `climate-adapted´ forest conversion – including the use of non-native tree species that have not yet been cultivated in the forest. Research should therefore focus on on tree species suitability and forest plant breeding in the future – keyword: `Climate-adapted forest of the future 2100´.

Remarkably, the damage caused primarily by the extreme drought of 2018 is attributed solely to climate change. Climate change is meeting a forest that is systemically ill due to the planting of non-native tree species, species poverty, monocultures, uniform structure, average low age, mechanical soil compaction, drainage etc. A healthy, resistant forest would look differently! The master plan emphasizes: sustainable, multifunctional and `active´ forest management remains indispensable – and thereby means that its unnatural state cannot be changed. Reference is made to the `carbon storage and substitution effects´ of wood products. The use of wood, e.g. in the construction industry, should be increased and thus the demand for wood should be further fueled – while knowing that the forest in Germany already cannot meet this demand. In fact, forest owners are suffering from poor timber prices due to an oversupply of trunk wood on the world market.

All these demands make clear: the current forestry strategy, which has been practiced for decades, should not change in principle. The concept is simple: cut down trees – plant trees. At best, the `design´ of the future artificial forests consisting of perfectly calculated tree species mixtures, that are believed to survive climate change without damages, can be changed. In all seriousness, the intention is to continue selling the public a so-called `future strategy´ to save the forest. This strategy seamlessly follows the model of a wood factory, that is met with general rejection and must be regarded as a failure in view of the coniferous plantations that are currently collapsing on a large scale. An essential part of the forests that have currently died is exactly the part that was reestablished in 1947 as coniferous monocultures on a much larger area than today. There is only one difference to the situation at the time: considerable amounts of money are to be made available from taxes for forest owners this time.

Climate change is progressing, and this, without a doubt, has massive impacts on all terrestrial ecosystems, including forests. To pretend that the last two years of drought alone caused the disaster is too cheap. On closer inspection, the disaster is also the result of decades of a forestry focused on conifers – in a country that was once naturally dominated by mixed deciduous forests. People do not like to admit that for more than 200 years they have relied on the wrong species of commercial tree (spruce) and have also created artificial, ecologically highly unstable and thus high-risk forest ecosystems. A whole branch of business has become dependent on coniferous wood. And now the German coniferous timber industry is on the verge of bankruptcy.

It would only have been honest and also a sign of political greatness if you and the forestry ministers in Moritzburg had declared: Yes, our forestry industry has made mistakes in the past, and yes, we are ready for a relentless analysis that takes into account not only purely silvicultural, but also forest-ecological aspects. Instead, you have confined yourselves to pre-stamped excuses that are already familiar to everyone and that lack any self-critical reflection.

Clear is: We finally need resting periods for the forest in Germany, which has been exploited for centuries. We need a new, ecologically oriented concept for future forest – not a hectic `forest conversion´, but simply forest development closer towards nature. This gives the forest as an ecosystem the necessary leeway to self-regulate and react to the emerging environmental changes. We need a systemic forest management that is no less profitable than the present one, but must be substantially more stable and resistant to foreseeable environmental changes. The aid for forest owners that all citizens are now required to pay through their taxes is only politically justified in the interest of common good, if the forests of the future that are being promoted by it, do not end up in the next disaster, some of which is produced by the forest management itself.

That is why the signatories request from the the Federal Government, and in particular you, Mrs Klöckner, a master plan worthy of the name:

On disaster areas (mainly in public forests!) reestablishment through natural forest development (ecological succession), among other things with pioneer tree species, is to be brought about. In private forests, ecological succession for reestablishment must be purposefully promoted. Larger bare areas should be planted with a maximum of 400 to 600 large plants of native species per hectare in order to permit ecological succession parallelly.
To promote ecological succession, the areas should no longer be completely and mechanically cleared; as much wood as possible should be left in the stand (to promote optimum soil and germ bed formation, soil moisture storage and natural protection against browsing). In private forests, the abandonment of use in disaster areas should be specifically promoted for ecological reasons and in order to relieve the burden on the timber market.

Regarding the promotion of reestablishment plantings in private forests: priority for native tree species (of regional origin); choose wide planting distances in order to leave enough space for the development of pioneer species. For the forests of the future: Minimize thinning (low-input principle), build up stocks through targeted development towards old thick trees, protect the inner forest climate / promote self-cooling function (should have highest priority due to rapidly progressing climate change!), prohibit heavy machinery, refrain from further road construction and expansion, permit and promote natural self-regulatory development processes in the cultivated forest and on (larger) separate areas in the sense of an compound system; drastically reduce the density of ungulate game (reform of hunting laws).

Like in the field of organic agriculture, which has been established since the 1980s, the crisis of our forests should be the reason today to transform at least two existing forestry-related universities. They should be turned into universities for interdisciplinary forest ecosystem management. This is a contribution not only to the further development of forestry science and silviculture in Germany, but also of global importance! The goal must be to produce wood through largely natural forest production and to start with it here in Germany, the birthplace of forestry.


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