A More Inclusive Wilderness Story

 Person sitting in the desert

The dominant public lands narrative has long celebrated American greatness by ignoring genocide, oppression, and land dispossession. The Wilderness Institute is working to tell a more honest story of the wilderness movement's evolution--to visitors, land managers, students and the public--one that doesn't glorify, but instead encourages growth through equity and inclusion.

It is important that the wilderness story becomes honest and relevant to diverse affinity groups, and accurately contextualizes conservation’s colonialist and discriminatory past. Through a new project, the Institute's Wilderness Connect program, is rewriting and revising the events and people that have traditionally characterized the history of the wilderness philosophy. The Wilderness Connect program includes a comprehensive online library of information about all wilderness areas in the country along with learning tools for those wanting to visit wilderness areas. From the idolization of characters like John Muir to the discriminatory meanings now conveyed by words like "untrammeled" and "protect," Wilderness Connect is re-envisioning the wilderness story we tell to transform what has long been a European-white-male-centric tale to one that recognizes the roles and contributions of people of color, women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, outdoor enthusiasts with disabilities and other marginalized groups.

Occurring this spring and summer, editing is being guided by an advisory committee including American Indian tribal, African American, Latinx, gay, lesbian, and disabled outdoor enthusiasts from wilderness management agencies, universities, non-profit organizations, and volunteer groups. Committee members include:

  • Salah Ahmed – Visual information specialist and graphic designer with the Bureau of Land Management
  • Quinn Brett – Accessibility, wilderness and outdoor recreation programs specialist with the National Park Service and former professional climber
  • Jesse Chakrin – Director of the Yosemite Leadership Program
  • Jenn Harrington – Cree and Metis tribal member, Native American natural resource program coordinator at the University of Montana W.A. Franke College of Forestry and Conservation, and former wilderness ranger
  • Shelton Johnson – Park ranger at Yosemite National Park, author, poet, playwright and actor in a stage production about Yosemite's African American military history entitled "Yosemite through the Eyes of a Buffalo Soldier, 1903"
  • Tina Mazzei – Volunteer outing leader with the Sierra Club’s Gay and Lesbian Sierrans
  • Jessi Mejia – Environmental journalism graduate student at the University of Montana and mountain goat monitoring program coordinator at Glacier National Park
  • Roger Osario – Maintenance worker at Chiricahua National Monument and formerly a youth leader with the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards and Groundwork Hudson Valley

Look for changes to the Wilderness Connect website starting in the fall/winter of 2021/2022. For questions about this project, contact Wildlands Communications Director Lisa Ronald.