Sunday, February 9, 2014

Guest Ranger: Chris Sailor

Well it is already the end of my winter on the Lost Coast of California. To most this sounds like a winter spent in torrential rain and fog, but this was the winter of 13/14, a winter that will go down as driest on record. I was living the “California dream” as some one told me on the trail and spent everyday soaking in the sun with the whole King Range to myself.

My time spent here was as a volunteer wilderness ranger. Still performing all the duties of my summer profession, without the monetary compensation though. But money is not why any of us got into this field of work. I'm one of lucky rambling seasonal rangers from Humboldt State. Free to roam every six months or so to a new wilderness area to work in and protect.
When I start to reflect on what I have learned these past couple of months, I can't help but think on how it relates to the other places that I have had the pleasure of rangering.

In the high desert ranges of Eastern Nevada it was the invasive Cheat Grass that provided the biggest threat to the native flora and fauna. It would burn hot, fast and frequently, until it was the only species as far as the eye could see. I would go from wilderness area to wilderness area tracking its inevitable advance. In the King Range I could relate this to a native species that, aided by fire suppression, turned into the intruder of the grass lands. The Douglas Fir was able to quickly propagate in meadows with the absence of fire, and slowly cover every open area so that wildlife and grass species were forced out. After spending a day removing Douglas Fir from a meadow I noticed half inch growth rings! Unheard of in the high mountain areas I have worked.

The trail corridors in the King Range receive an incredible amount of rain and sunshine making for a never ending brush battle. The Colorado Rockies have a massive amount of dying and standing dead trees due to the Mountain Pine Beetle. This will provide a daunting amount of trail work for years and years to come.

On the High Sierra, the ever popular John Muir/Pacific Crest trails created areas of concentrated impact so bad that there was not an un-burnt stick on the ground. The King Range's high tide zones and fresh water limitations concentrated overnight use to the mouths of streams. Some so impacted that every available flat space has a tent pad on it.
In Colorado it was the climbing community that provided compliance challenges. In the King Range is was the Surfers............. OK, you get the point. You can draw a seemingly endless amount of similarities from one place to another.

Challenges like these will forever test the resolve of wilderness managers. Easy options such as the use of chain saws, use limits and increased regulation might create a simple solution to many of these management problems. But is administering “quick fixes” what wilderness management about? NO! “The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders!” And strong ones at that. Ones who can creatively come up with solutions that don't jeopardize wilderness character. Ones who can cross 20 trees a day, every day and still have that “bring it on attitude.”

It is our job as the rambling ranger (a.k.a. Future wilderness managers) to take in and absorb all that we can from each wonderful wilderness area and its management. Come into each season with an empty cup so it may be filled by the lessons of the wild. Use these fond memories to aid you in the future management of these pristine lands. So go now and do the “best job in the world” with vigilance and pride for the spirit of all things wild will thank you for an eternity!  

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