The Life of a New Mexico Wilderness Ranger

About New Mexico Wilderness Rangers

rangers

Here at New Mexico Wild, we have a critical position that we employ, our New Mexico Wilderness Rangers. These are dedicated individuals who focus on Wilderness stewardship work through monitoring and data collection efforts; Wilderness education and outreach to youth and adults; and volunteer engagement in field-based projects.  

Their work breathes life into Wilderness operations and areas around the state that would otherwise be understaffed and underserved.  We are so thankful that they give their time and energy to our beautiful New Mexico national forests.

Who are they? 

our rangersOur rangers come from varying work and education backgrounds and represent many different walks of life. They know Wilderness principles, concepts, policies, and objectives. It is important to us that they are sensitive to New Mexico’s diverse ecosystems and its variety of needs. 

Our rangers might have an educational background relevant to the outdoors, like a degree in biology, wildlife conservation, or environmental science. Or they could have personal environmental values and experiences that align with our mission and want to give back.

Wilderness Rangers must be very well rounded and balanced as they perform a very diverse range of duties. The first significant quality of a good ranger is physical and mental stamina. They must be able to hike 10 miles a day for five days straight while also collecting data and doing stewardship tasks.

They must also carry heavy packs that include GPS point collectors, a shovel, a saw, maps, and first aid kits. They have analytical minds in order to make quick decisions about areas on the go and more complicated issues that matter in the long run.  They have excellent people and community skills essential in engaging the public in why these areas matter. 

The data they collect, work they complete, and people they engage will affect the future of New Mexico’s Wilderness Areas and stewardship community. Rangers are an integral piece needed to keep our backcountry in tip-top shape.

What do they do?

Rangers mostly work in the field, in remote areas of the Wilderness, for multiple days at a time. The ranger’s job is primarily to protect and steward the Wilderness. No two days look the same; they could be investigating a problem section of trail, installing new signage with volunteers, or mapping non-native species. 

Wilderness designation is the highest form of protection that public lands can have. These are areas set aside to let nature’s processes occur without severe interference of humankind or civilization. 

horsebackThe Wilderness Act of 1964 defines Wilderness as “an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”

The Wilderness Act also states that “‘wilderness areas’… shall be administered for the use and enjoyment of the American people in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for future use and enjoyment”

Wilderness rangers are the eyes and ears on the ground in these areas. They collect important data that show us if the Wilderness is up to the Wilderness Act standard. We use this data to understand the health of the ecosystem over time so we can hopefully adjust management approaches accordingly. The end goal is to keep the Wilderness natural and pristine for the long run, for the sake of the ecosystem and its visitors. 

Rangers also work to engage their respective local communities in Wilderness education and stewardship projects. They work together with Forest Service personnel to identify stewardship projects. Then they later recruit, coordinate, and lead volunteers in completing a variety of stewardship projects.

New Mexico has one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country. The high desert and limited water resources can make it challenging to serve. These individuals have a strong conservation ethic and work hard to practice low-impact backcountry travel skills while in the field working. 

Current Projects

  • In February, Cibola Wilderness Rangers, Walker, and Brennan worked with Cottonwood Gulch and the Albuquerque Tech Leadership Academy. They helped remove graffiti from the iconic boulders in the foothills of the Sandia Mountain Wilderness. Students hiked in and scrubbed, and most importantly learned what “designated Wilderness” means. They were also interviewed by PBS, which hopefully gave them a sense of purpose and duty.

cibola wilderness

  • This summer, Lincoln Wilderness Rangers, Liam, and Andres have worked with the Smokey Bear Volunteer Trail crew to help clear trail access for the heavily recreated White Mountain Wilderness. This volunteer is very self-sufficient and is doing great work while maintaining contact with both the rangers and the Forest Service.
  • Santa Fe Wilderness Rangers, Zack, and Jesse have identified signage needs across the San Pedro Parks Wilderness. They are working with the Forest Service to engage volunteers in installing them. This signage will help visitors know when they are entering the Wilderness and what trail they are on.
  • Gila Wilderness Rangers, Laura, and Abel are working to engage visitors in good Leave No Trace ethics as the Gila National Forest has seen a significant uptick in use. More use means some dispersed camping areas have been heavily impacted by the loss of ground cover, excessive fire rings, and trash. They worked with volunteers to dismantle or downsize fire rings, remove the garbage, and educate people on the proper way to recreate in Wilderness. 
  • Will, our Wilderness Stewardship and Outreach Manager, has been working on compiling a baseline assessment report on Wilderness health in the Lincoln and Santa Fe National Forests. He has been working with Wilderness Rangers and Forest Service specialists to collect data for this report to continue monitoring trends over time.

What are the new challenges facing Wilderness Rangers during COVID?

trail head

Life in the New Mexico outdoors has changed dramatically since the start of COVID. The New Mexico mountain ranges are sacred to many New Mexican and are a haven to reset their minds and bodies. 

Our rangers had a late start this year when the stay-at-home orders were in effect to offset the pandemic. But when everything re-opened, our rangers were there to welcome people back and safely educate visitors about best practices to stay safe and get outside.

Because many venues and activities have been closed due to COVID, people have been flocking to the Wilderness. The abundance of people has put stress on the land, and communication with the Forest Service has changed as many offices are closed.

But our rangers are out communicating with visitors on the trail about best practices. Of course, it is somewhat more challenging with masks and social distancing. When in the Wilderness during COVID, make sure to listen to your local outdoor authorities, continue practicing social distancing on trails, and wear masks. 

Are you interested?

Do you have an affinity for the conservation and preservation of the Wilderness? Are you interested in working with rangers, in two-person field-based crews? We are currently looking for additional rangers to help support our mission. 

If you are interested in applying for a ranger position, click here. If you would like to go hiking with a ranger or get involved in volunteer stewardship projects, please contact Wilderness Stewardship Manager Will Ribbans at will@nmwild.org or 505-974-9220.

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