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Volunteers Clear Weeds to Benefit Rocky Mountain Elk Habitat, Celebrate 50th Year of the Wilderness Act

The Raggeds Wilderness, a nearly 65,000-acre area on the Gunnison and White River National Forests near Paonia, Colorado, is prime elk habitat with herd numbers in the hundreds.

Acres of undisturbed coniferous forests are interspersed with open slopes of wet meadows thick with grasses and sedges, a nutritious diet for elk needing to fatten up for the winter. But houndstongue, a purple-flowered invasive weed that takes root alongside nutritious plants, is toxic to elk.

A U.S. Forest Service Ranger Sees Wilderness as the Ultimate Yardstick

For most of his 16 years with the U.S. Forest Service, Dave Warnack spent them boots-on-the-ground. That’s to say that he does not just talk the talk.

“Wilderness will be the ultimate index by which I measure my status, progress and overall place in the world,” Warnack says in the film “Wilderness: The Ultimate Yardstick. “I say this because when you enter a wilderness alone, unsupported, you quickly realize that the wilderness doesn’t care about you. It doesn’t care about the grades you got in school. It doesn’t care about your medals, your degrees or the size of your salary. The first time you measure yourself by the yardstick of wilderness, you may quickly find that you are, indeed, very small and perhaps inconsequential.”

Life in the Colorado Wilderness: Journal Entry Reflects Rangers' Experiences in Retracing Arthur Carhart's First Journey to Trappers Lake

In 1919, landscape architect Arthur Carhart made his first journey to Colorado’s Trappers Lake and the Flat Top Wilderness. His idea of keeping natural areas of beauty free from development inspired the Forest Service to be the first natural resource agency to push for designated wilderness areas.

The grandeur of the area recently inspired Forest Service employees from the White River National Forest to retrace Carhart’s 25-mile hike through the wilderness across trails with names like Wall Lake and Trappers Lake to the Cradle of Wilderness on their way to the lake. Like many a hiker who visits wilderness areas, they were inspired by the variety of experiences they encountered during their pilgrimage.

US Forest Service Tool Fells Trees, Slices Through Massive Logs - and Sings

The crosscut saw, once a symbol for conquering the wild forests of the west in order to provide lumber for America’s cities, now endures as a symbol of wilderness preservation in our national forests.

The crosscut saw reached prominence in the United States between 1880 and 1930, but quickly became obsolete when power saws started being mass produced. The passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964 has helped restore the dying art of primitive tool use by effectively requiring their use in wilderness trail maintenance.

What is Wilderness? Experience Exceeds the Definition

As I reach the pinnacle of this stretch of trail my heart is racing, my calves are burning, and my face is dripping with perspiration. I feel strong. I remove the pack from my aching shoulders and grab my water bottle. I am refreshed as I gulp it down. This is sweet mountain water that will eventually trickle down to taps in the city below. Up here, it’s clear and icy cold and the only type of water I have consumed during my five-day wilderness experience.

I lower the bottle from my mouth to admire my accomplishments. The top of the mountain pass has rewarded me with spectacular views of surrounding peaks. I feel alone, but not forlorn. I unravel the contents of my pack and begin to set up my final camp.

Get Back, Give Back: Federal Retiree Begins New 'Career' with US Forest Service

After nearly 32 years of combined federal and state natural resource management public service, I retired.

I have been blessed with a rewarding career. But before that final day working in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary arrived, I had already applied for and been accepted as a volunteer wilderness ranger in the Pasayten Wilderness of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest in Washington State. It was the best promotion of my career.

Forest Service to Live-Stream Cradle of Wilderness Commemoration Event

In the Flat Tops Wilderness of Colorado, there is a grand rock formation named the Amphitheatre that serves as the backdrop for the overlook to Trappers Lake known as the Cradle of Wilderness.

The area forms a sort of natural amphitheater of majestic volcanic cliffs, 320 surface acres of pristine lake and majestic volcanic rock cliffs and an expansive sky. The area holds a sacred place in history for those who cherish the values and spirit of wilderness.

It will also be the site of a panel discussion on the “Wilderness Idea” on Aug. 22 from 10 a.m. to noon MST as the White River National Forest commemorates the Cradle of Wilderness area as part of the 50th Anniversary of the Wilderness Act of 1964.  The public is invited to tune in to this live stream event.

Meeting the Next Generation Who will Carry the Torch as Wilderness, Natural Resource Stewards

While my days of adventuring into the back country are by no means over, it is becoming increasingly apparent that my generation is approaching the inevitable time when we must pass the torch on to the next generation of wilderness and natural resource stewards.

On my recent trip to Missoula, Montana, I was privileged and extremely pleased to see a group of young people who will help carry that torch. My heart is more at peace about our future after my experience viewing the U.S. Forest Service movie “Untrammeled” at the University of Montana.

Secretary's Column: Our Nation's Wilderness: Yours to Enjoy and Protect

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. When he signed the Act in 1964, President Lyndon Johnson said, “If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it."

His foresight, along with the work of many of his contemporaries, has allowed generations of Americans to enjoy the natural beauty of our nation.

The Wilderness Act itself was landmark legislation that formally established protections for undeveloped tracts of land across the United States and created the country’s National Wilderness Preservation System.

Clearer Air Awaits You in Wilderness Areas Across the Country

Visitors to wilderness areas treasure the stunning vistas and pristine scenery. Now there is good news for the millions of people who recreate in these special places: less haze exists in most wilderness areas allowing them to see farther and enjoy more color and texture in the scenery.

“We have even better news,” says Bret Anderson, the Forest Service’s regional haze coordinator. “Further reductions in air pollution are expected to bring even clearer air in coming years.”

All this good news is showcased in a recent series of USDA Forest Service reports showing visibility has improved at 60 of the 86 Class I wilderness areas, which are defined as those area of greater than 6,000 acres. The trends considered five-year averages of the haziest days for each year from 2000 through 2009.