Experts will discuss everything from land management to charting a path for future wilderness leaders when the 2015 National Wilderness Workshop is held Thursday and Friday at the University of Montana.
“Last year was the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act,” explained Eric Melson of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance, one of the main sponsors of the event. “That gathered up thousands of advocates and personnel to think about where we’ve gotten in the last 50 years. They also produced a document called ‘The 2020 Vision,’ which is great, but it's vague about how we’re going to further the merits of the Wilderness Act.”
The intent of this week's workshop is to develop plans to put that vision into action, he said.
“The document calls for things like ‘protecting the American heritage of wilderness.’ That’s great, but how do you actually do that?” Melson said. “That’s the goal here.”
The workshop is bringing nearly 200 people to town from across the country to share best practices and try to chart the course for wilderness for the next 50 years, he said.
Participants will tackle issues such as increasing participation among ethnic minorities and the political battles surrounding the designation of new wilderness.
The organizers of the event chose Missoula this year because it is the Region 1 headquarters for the U.S. Forest Service and because many nonprofits that are dedicated to wilderness issues are located here.
“Region 1 has more acres of wilderness than any other region,” Melson said. “A lot of Western lands are publicly managed. This is kind of the birthplace of wilderness. In 1964 when the Wilderness Act was passed, 9 million acres were designated as wilderness. The Bob Marshall was part of that, as was the Selway-Bitterroot, and the Anaconda-Pintler was also one of the original areas.”
Natalie Dawson, director of the Wilderness Institute at UM and coordinator of the Wilderness and Civilization Program, said the conference coincides with the institute’s 40th anniversary.
“It’s really cool,” she said. “It’s a nice dovetail. We have a 40th anniversary celebration on Thursday night at 7:30 at the Flathead Lake Brewery downtown. We should have at least 100 alumni there. We’ve had 1,000 people go through the Wilderness and Civilization Program, and a lot of the folks are around.”
Dawson said the workshop is being held on campus because young people need to get involved in wilderness issues.
“The workshop is a nice way to follow up on the 50th anniversary,” she said. “That provided a lot of momentum and we want to have more opportunity to network in the wilderness community, and this is one of the first attempts to keep that network growing and make sure young people that are coming up through agencies and in other tracks have an opportunity to participate in public forums. A lot of the people that work in wilderness are older. This is a nice way to get youth engaged.”
Participants in workshop sessions have to register starting at 7:30 a.m. Thursday on the third floor of the University Center, but any UM student can attend for free.
The public is invited to a silent auction Thursday at 5:30 p.m. in the University Center Ballroom, where there will also be a Wilderness Career Fair and a no-host bar.
For a full schedule of events and more information, visit wildernessalliance.org/news/events/347-2015-national-wilderness-workshop.