To get young people into the wilderness, skip social media in favor of personal contact.
That’s the prescription offered by several panels of wilderness advocates wondering how to attract the millennial generation to jobs and stewardship.
“Employers and job seekers really have to meet in the middle,” Darcy Shepard of Friends of Nevada Wilderness said. “Placing an ad in the newspaper may not be the best way to reach millennials. Watching your Twitter feed or Facebook may not be the best either. You’ve got to work the word-of-mouth.”
Getting those conversations going across generations was a major theme of the 2015 National Wilderness Workshop currently meeting at the University of Montana.
While the United States has designated nearly 109 million acres since the passage of the Wilderness Act in 1964, many wilderness supporters date from the same period.
“In 2007, we rewrote our strategic plan, and one direction was more youth engagement,” said Zack Porter, field director for the Montana Wilderness Association in Missoula. “That really caused a dramatic change in the organization. When I started four years ago, there were just a couple of people under 30 in the office. Now about a quarter of the workforce is under 30. I just turned 30, and I can’t relate any more.”
That last bit was a joke, but Porter and other speakers were serious about the need to make wilderness a welcoming place to both play and work.
Katie Knotek of the Lolo National Forest proudly displayed a brand-new U.S. Forest Service job description for an upper management job that put wilderness and recreation experience on the same career track as people with biology backgrounds.
“There was a real disconnect in the agency,” Knotek said. “We called it the search for the missing rungs in the ladder. Now we have a way forward for people with recreation degrees or technical experience. This is cool stuff the Forest Service is doing.”
But wilderness workers in both the government and nonprofit worlds warned that the jobs aren’t as attractive as they need to be.
Several commented about how working for AmeriCorps or as interns in either public or private service left one qualified for food stamps and other assistance because the paychecks are so small.
“Don’t be a martyr for the cause,” said Andrew Schurr of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance. “Don’t burn out at the desk or on the trail. This culture needs to change. You’ve got to pay your people enough to live. Passion and dedication are great, but you’re hiring young people who are thinking of making a career. Don’t take those expectations for granted.”