Monday, December 30, 2019

What's a Qualified Charitable Distribution?

Dear Wilderness Volunteer,

As mentioned in the WV November newsletter, Wilderness Volunteers is a 501(c)3 charitable organization and donations may be tax deductible. Unfortunately, since the passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act in 2017, many taxpayers no longer benefit from itemizing their deductions. An equally helpful alternative to making a charitable contribution may be a Qualified Charitable Distribution (QCD).

How QCDs work:
You must be 70 ½ or older in order to be eligible to make a QCD. You simply instruct your IRA trustee/custodian to make a distribution directly from your IRA (other than a SEP or SIMPLE IRA) to Wilderness Volunteers. The distribution must be one that would otherwise be taxable to you. You can exclude up to $100,000 of QCDs from your gross income each year. And, if you file a joint return, your spouse (if 70 ½ or older), can exclude an additional $100,000 of QCDs. Note: You do not get to deduct QCDs as a charitable contribution on your federal tax return – that would be double-dripping.

QCDs count towards satisfying your required minimum distributions (RMDs) that you would otherwise have to receive from your IRA – just as if you had received an actual distribution from the IRA. However, distributions that you receive from your IRA (including RMDs) and subsequently transfer to a charity cannot qualify as QCDs.

Important note: A QCD must be an otherwise taxable distribution from your IRA. If you have made nondeductible contributions, then normally each distribution carries with it a pro-rata amount of taxable and nontaxable dollars. However, a special rule applies to QCDs – the pro-rata rule is ignored, and your taxable dollars are treated as distributed first.

Why are QCDs important?
Without this special rule, taking a distribution from your IRA and donating the proceeds directly to Wilderness Volunteers would be a bit more cumbersome and possibly more expensive. You would request a distribution from the IRA and then make the contribution to Wilderness Volunteers yourself. You would include the distribution in your gross income and take a corresponding income-tax deduction for the charitable contribution. But, due to IRS limits, the additional tax from the distribution may be more than the charitable deduction. Furthermore, due to much higher standard deduction amounts ushered in by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in 2017, itemizing deductions may be become even less beneficial.

QCDs avoid all of this by providing an exclusion from income for the amount paid directly from your IRA custodian to Wilderness Volunteers – you do not report the IRA distribution in your gross income, and you do not take a deduction for the QCD.

You can make the QCD payable directly to Wilderness Volunteers, by asking your IRA custodian to make the check payable to the Wilderness Volunteers Endowment Fund and have the check mailed directly to:

Wilderness Volunteers
PO Box 22292
Flagstaff, AZ 86002

It is always a good idea to consult with your tax advisor if you have any questions regarding charitable contributions or QCDs.

Thank you,
Lee D. Cooper, CFP®, ChFC®
Treasurer, Wilderness Volunteers

2019 WV photo contest winners!

We'd like to announce the winners for the 2019 Wilderness Volunteers photo contest. We received a lot of great submissions this year and we want to take a second to thank everyone who participated this year.

Without further adieu...

Grand Prize 

Kui Kanthatham (@kui360 on Instagram). "Milky Way over Sawtooth Lake & Mount Regan"

Top prizes in each category:

On the trail / hard at work- Randy Meier. "Ansel Adams Wilderness"

Wildlife- Kathleen Worley. "Moraine Lake, Three Sisters Wilderness"

Wildflowers + trees- Greg "Coach" Allen. "King Range National Conservation Area"

Landscapes- Randy Kahn. "The Watchman and Virgin River"

Camp life- Amy Schwake. "Salmon River"

Congratulations to all of our winners! A huge thank you to our prize donors Keen Footwear, REI, Patagonia, & Liz Lemon.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Keep It Clean: On The Importance of Cleaning Your Gear

One of the most important (and likely most forgotten) parts of being a responsible outdoor adventurer is cleaning your gear before and after each adventure.

While exploring our nation's wild lands helps us gain appreciation for them it can also put them in added danger. Invasive weeds, insects, and diseases can be introduced to new areas via shoes, clothing, camping gear, boats, vehicles, firewood, etc.

You know it was fun if you get dirty!

Here are just a few examples of some invasive and destructive threats to our public lands that can be transported to new places by unwary travelers:

  • White Nose Syndrome (bats): a fungal disease, likely from Europe, that is killing millions of bats in North America. White Nose Syndrome can be transported from cave to cave by humans on shoes, clothing, or gear. 
  • Chytrid Fungus (amphibians): a fungal disease that has led to massive population declines and/or extinctions of various amphibian species. It can be transmitted in water or on wet or muddly footwear or gear. 
  • Rapid Ohia Death (Ohia Trees): a fungal disease that causes the quick death of native hawaiian Ohia trees. It can be transmitted through movement of infected firewood, or on clothing, shoes, gear, or equipment.
  • Ranavirus (amphibians, reptiles, and fish): a viral infection that has caused mass mortality events of amphibians and reptiles. It can be spread in water or on wet or muddy footwear or gear.
  • Didymo (waterways): a freshwater diatom native to cold regions of North America, northern Europe and Asia. Didymo can form thick mats and smother habitats for stream dwelling insects and fish. It can be spread on felt-sole wading boots, boats and gear.
  • Zebra Mussel (waterways): a small freshwater mussel native to Russia and Ukraine that has invaded numerous waterways across the eastern United States. They reproduce and colonize in large numbers, outcompeting native mussels, changing the water quality, and overwhelming waterways. They can be transmitted in water, on boats, and on waders/gear.
  • Non-native weeds (public lands): Introduced plants can radically alter native ecosystems by outcompeting and smothering native plants, removing native foods and habitats for wildlife, increasing soil erosion, and degrading aquatic waterways. Weeds can be unintentionally introduced to new areas on hiking boots, clothing, gear, etc. 

What you can do:

  • Clean your gear throroughly. Check and clean your gear before you leave for your next adventure and before you leave to come home. Remove seeds, burrs, mud, soil, and debris.
  • Disinfect your footwear. Use a small bottle with isopropyl alcohol or a 10-25% bleach solution and a cleaning brush. The disinfectant should take at least a minute to dry.
  • Wear gaiters. Wearing hiking gaiters can help keep seeds, burrs and plants out of your shoes and shoe laces and make cleaning your shoes easier.
  • Stay on trails. Staying on designated trails (and out of closed/fragile areas) helps prevent the spread of seeds/diseases away from untrammeled areas. 
  • Clean your bike tires. Remove mud, soil, rocks and debris from your tires before and after each ride. (Be sure to leave materials on site where they came from.)
  • Buy and use firewood locally. Fungi, insects, small critters, and other invasives can be transported in firewood. Buy or obtain firewood as close as possible to the place you need it and leave any left over firewood in the same area instead of taking it home.
  • Use weed-free hay. If you are taking horses/llamas/etc on the trail with you buy certified weed-free hay, feed, or straw to prevent invasive weed seeds or root fragments from colonizing new areas.
  • Make sure wet equipment dries completely before using it again. A variety of hitchhiking fungus, viruses, and pests can continue to live as long as their environment is wet. Be sure your equipment has enough time to dry completely between your adventures. 
  • Clean your boat. Clean plants, mud or debris off your boat/canoe/kayak before departing and drain it thoroughly. Dry your boat/canoe/kayak with towels and/or make sure it has enough time to dry between adventures (at least 5 days is recommended). 


Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Announcing the 2019 WV photo contest!

We're days away from wrapping up a successful 2019 project season— it's crazy how time flies! This also means that it's the magical time of year when we hold our annual Wilderness Volunteers photo contest. This year's grand prize includes a free Wilderness Volunteers project for the 2020 season on projects with an open spot.

Check out some gorgeous submissions from last year's contest.

Set aside some time, open that laptop or smartphone and enter your favorite WV project photos by clicking on the following links and uploading your selections to the WV SmugMug gallery in these categories:

Please be sure to add your last name, project and year to the file name of each photo before uploading them to the gallery. First . (eg. Northcutt_LyeBrook2019.jpg)

To view entries so far go to and click on the desired category.

One winner will be selected for each category as well as a grand prize winner for the best photo.

Grand Prize:

A gift certificate for a free Wilderness Volunteers project good for the 2020 project season

A final list of prizes for each category will be listed after Monday, November 11th.

You can enter as many photos as you like, just be sure to do so before the deadline of the end of day on Sunday, December 15, 2019!

Official Contest Rules:
  • All photos must be taken on a 2019 Wilderness Volunteers Project and subject matter must comply with Leave No Trace ethics & principles.

  • Each entry must include the photographer's name and the project it was taken on.

  • The same photo cannot be entered in more than one category. Judges reserve the right to switch images to other categories.

  • The contest is open to all 2019 WV project participants and leaders, except for Wilderness Volunteers staff, contest judges and their families. WV reserves the right to verify, in its sole judgment, entrant eligibility.

  • Photographs will be judged on originality, technical excellence, composition, overall impact, and artistic merit. Awards will be selected by a panel of judges, and all decisions are final.

  • Entries must be submitted to the Wilderness Volunteers photo gallery no later than 11:59 pm UTC on by Sunday, December 15th, 2019 to be eligible.

  • Judges may exclude entries that do not meet the above criteria.

  • Winners will be notified by email. Wilderness Volunteers is not responsible for lost or damaged prizes.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

INTERN BLOG SERIES: A Necessity Not My Own

by Alix Schoback // 2019 Wilderness Volunteers intern

“So you’re paying an organization to go do manual labor for a week? Shouldn’t they be paying you?” 
The words of my grandpa, who had been fairly confused about my summer internship with Wilderness Volunteers, echoed in my head. I sat on a rock beside the trail we were working on in the Sawtooth Wilderness; we were three miles from our destination of the wilderness boundary, and 5 miles from our camp at McGown Lakes. I looked out at the mountainside across from me, littered with dead trees — some strewn across the ground, some still upright — from a ten-year-old burn. My tool of choice for the day, a grubhoe, lay at my feet. 
It was the fourth day of our project, and I had already hiked nearly forty miles. In all honesty, I was exhausted. Consequently, I was frustrated with myself. This was supposed to be what I loved, what I cared about — work I considered to be of the utmost importance. Still, for a second, my grandpa’s words resonated with me. I felt the slightest sense of injustice, then shame for allowing the emotion to even enter my head.

I ate a handful of almonds, gulped down some water from my Nalgene, and proceeded down the trail with my grubhoe. For the next mile, I chopped at exposed roots with the hoe’s corner and scraped out drainages with its flat edge, reflecting all the while. I recalled how I had responded to my grandpa’s veiled criticism of this effort I cared about so deeply when he had first made the comment back in June. I silently reminded myself of every reason I was standing on the side of an Idaho mountain, hundreds of miles from home, my face smeared with dirt, hair unwashed, arms sunburnt and mosquito-bitten.

It came down to a necessity not my own.
Compared to the fields many of my peers are entering into — business, medicine, etc. — there is not much money to be found in conservation work. Federal and state departments entrusted with the protection of the public lands we love are severely underfunded, as our government remains preoccupied with domestic issues and international conflicts deemed more pressing. For this reason, nonprofits like Wilderness Volunteers exist. After applying to the organization’s internship, I had pored over its entire website, both impressed and humbled to learn that it functioned with only two paid employees and a dedicated group of volunteers. In the money- dominated world we live in, it was beautiful to see an effort toward bettering the planet driven by compassion instead of cash. 
Still, the failure of both government and private industry to adequately incentivize the safeguarding of natural resources presents a global dilemma. While altruism in the name of 
conservation is something I find inspiring, its reliance on human morality and compassion renders it flimsy. Human beings are fundamentally self-serving; the removedness from the outdoors that many of us experience as a byproduct of development thereby stymies most impetuses for wilderness stewardship. Put simply, it’s difficult to realize how important these spaces are until you fully experience them. How can we expect someone to care about climate change and pollution until they’ve seen its effects firsthand? How can we expect people to make an effort until they’ve seen a once kelly green forest devastated by wildfire, or learned about rare bird species dying of avian malaria? 

How can you connect deeply to an issue without knowing what’s at stake? 
If the industrial revolution, westward expansion, and numerous other historical moments are any indication of Americans’ moral compass regarding conservation, morality alone is insufficient. We need systemic incentives for conservation. This is, in no uncertain terms, a tall order. 
In this seeming impossibility, how do we still make progress? While striving for structural change, we must simultaneously shoulder the environmental morality that many of us are so estranged from. We recognize the importance of taking care of our homes — we tend to our gardens, do our dishes, dust, sweep, and vacuum. In the same way, we must normalize the care-taking of our home — maintaining trails, out-planting native species, assisting pollinators, reducing our carbon footprints, and creating less waste are just a few examples. In the adversity of achieving structural change, we must at least strive to normalize best practices until they are taken by all as givens. 
And, just as with household chores, we must do them for no reason other than that they must be done. While it may not always be found in the practice, the joy of it all lies in the purpose.
“And that’s why I’m here,” I thought. On this trail, on this mountain, in this state, in this country, on this inimitable planet Earth. 
I had not vocalized this thought process with such eloquence to my grandfather. I had stuttered and stumbled over my words — partly frustrated by the implication of his question, partly cognizant that my hope would likely be interpreted as naiveté.
But in that moment in the Sawtooths, I was entirely sure of myself.

I lifted my grubhoe, and aimed its sharp corner at the next root.


Alix is a senior at U.C. Berkeley where she is studying political science and environmental econonics and policy. Stay tuned for more blog posts about her summer internship experiences with Wilderness Volunteers!

Monday, September 23, 2019

Equipment Spotlight: Adventure Medical Kits Ultralight Watertight PRO

Over the last 19 years I've led nearly 40 week-long service projects with Wilderness Volunteers in public lands all over the United States. I've used a number of different first aid kits to deal with scrapes, cuts, blisters, etc. over this time but hands down my current favorite is the Ultralight Watertight PRO from Adventure Medical Kits.                                                                             

The exterior yellow rip-stop nylon zippered bag helps keep the contents dry even when working in rainy and wet conditions. The interior bags (3 Super stretch DryFlex™ bags and 1 smaller rip-stop nylon bag) make doubly sure the kit contents stay dry while still being lightweight (~⅓-½ oz), and durable. (Having opened up kits before for a bandage only to find the paper soaked I can't say how much I appreciate medical kits that keep the insides dry even when your backpack gets wet.)

The kit is designed to work for up to 10 people for up to seven days and at compact 1 pound, 10 ounces it's suitable for both front country and back country adventures. Adventure Medical also has two smaller versions of the kit if the PRO is too much kit for you/your group: a .9 (1-4 people for up to 4 days) and a .7 (1-2 people for 1-4 days)
The Ultralight Watertight PRO comes well stocked with the following components out of the box:

Bandage Materials
  5 - Bandage, Adhesive, Fabric, 1" x 3"
  2 - Bandage, Conforming Gauze, Non-Sterile, 3"
  1 - Bandage, Elastic, Co-hesive, Self Adhering, 3"
  2 - Dressing, Gauze, Sterile, 2" x 2", Pkg./2
  4 - Dressing, Gauze, Sterile, 3" x 3", Pkg./2
  2 - Dressing, Non-Adherent, Sterile, 3" x 4"
  2 - Gloves, Nitrile (Pair)
  2 - Trauma Pad, 5" x 9"
Blister / Burn
  2 - Moleskin, 7"x 4"
  1 - CPR Face Shield
  1 - CPR Pocket Mask
Fracture / Sprain
  1 - Bandage, Triangular
  1 - C-Splint™, 4" x 36"
  1 - EMT Shears, 4"
  1 - Pencil
  2 - Safety Pins
Introducing a WV favorite, the ULWTPRO.
  1 - Splinter Picker/Tick Remover Forceps
Medical Information
  1 - Comp. Guide to Wilderness & Travel Medicine
  1 - Patient Assessment Form
  4 - Antihistamine (Diphenhydramine 25 mg)
  2 - Aspirin (325 mg), Pkg./2
  4 - Diamode (Loperamide HCI 2 mg), Pkg./1
  2 - Ibuprofen (200 mg), Pkg./2
  3 - DRYFlex™ Waterproof Bag, 6" x 9"
  1 - Pull-out Ultralight / Watertight Bag
Survival Tools
  1 - Emergency Reflective Blanket, 56" x 84"
Wound Care
  1 - Syringe, Irrigation, 10 cc, 18 Gauge Tip
  6 - Antiseptic Towelette
  1 - Tape, 1" x 10 Yards
  4 - Triple Antibiotic Ointment, 1/32oz, Single Use
  1 - Wound Closure Strips, ¼" x 4", Pkg./10
  1 - Tincture of Benzoin Topical Adhesive , Vial

The included compact first aid book "Wilderness & Travel Medicine: A Comprehensive Guide - 4th Edition" by Eric A. Weiss, MD weighs about 5 oz and packs in over 200 pages covering topics ranging from fractures and sprains, altitude sickness, and heat illnesses, to shock, dislocations, hypothermia, and even gunshot wounds to help you recall your first aid training and maybe even learn something new. It contains handy drawings to illustrate techniques (eg how to close a cut using wound closure strips) and at 4¼" x 6", it doesn't take up too much space in the kit.

My other favorite items in this kit: The full size EMT shears make cutting bandages and clothing a breeze, the benzoin tincture is great at keeping bandages on high friction/bendy locations (think heels and knees), and the self adhering bandage works for pressure bandages, joint support and can also help keep dressings in place.

Adventure Medical Kits has been a fantastic supporter of Wilderness Volunteers over the years and while we are very appreciative of them helping us keep our project leaders equipped with first aid kits we also really appreciate the thought that they put into making a quality first aid kit that meets the needs of our demanding service projects.
-Ashely Northcutt
 Executive Director
 Wilderness Volunteers

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Desolation Wilderness celebrates 50 years!

2019 is a monumental year for Desolation Wilderness as it celebrates 50 years as designated wilderness. This rugged northern California region was first called the Desolation Valley Primitive Area in 1931, later gaining wilderness status in 1969. Those who have had the fortune to visit know the inexplicable beauty to be found: 63,960 acres that span both sides of the Sierra Nevada, alpine/subalpine landscapes, 130+ brilliant blue alpine lakes, and 27 hard trails. Desolation Wilderness sees the most visitors annually for a wilderness its size and contains segments of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), the Tahoe Rim Trail (TRT), as well as the Crystal Range.

For many years, Wilderness Volunteers have fielded week-long projects in coordination with the Eldorado National Forest (EDNF). Together, we’ve tackled bigger projects including trail work, rockwork, water mitigation, illegal campsite removal, and crosscut projects. I reached out to our EDNF liaison, Wilderness Ranger Dustin Bell, to learn more about the state of Desolation Wilderness (DW), what we can do to help preserve it, and what you can do to be a good outdoor recreator.

Thank you for taking the time for this interview. To provide a context for our readers, please tell us your name, your position, and how long you’ve been working in Desolation Wilderness.

Absolutely. My name is Dustin Bell and I’m a Wilderness Ranger for the Eldorado National Forest. I’ve been working in Desolation for over 10 years.

What makes Desolation Wilderness unique or special? 

Desolation offers accessibility for people to enjoy the wilderness that is unlike a lot of other wilderness areas. You can get into a wilderness area without having to trek out to Montana or Idaho and have a full itinerary. This area is very accessible from all sides of the wilderness with 15 trailheads leading in. It’s co-managed by the Eldorado National Forest and the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit.

Desolation gets the wrap of being one of the most heavily used designated wildernesses in the U.S. Is this still true and do you have any numbers or trends you could share? 

Yes, definitely. Per acre, we’re the most used wilderness area in the country. There are a lot of numbers thrown out, but we get 150,000-180,000 visitors per year on roughly 64,000 acres. A lot of the use is on the Tahoe side (6 trailheads) and the southern end of the wilderness. As you go farther north, you’re definitely going to find more solitude (9 trailheads).

2019 is the big 5-0 for Desolation. Are there any celebratory plans happening or in the works?

We are having our annual end of the season Desolation Wilderness Volunteers gathering be a combination 50th Birthday party for Desolation. This will be open to more than just volunteers, we will have family, friends, and fellow Forest Service employees such as the visitor services people who issue permits on hand to help celebrate and recognize everyone’s hard work that goes into protecting and managing Desolation Wilderness.

How’s the season going so far?

It’s been a really good season. Obviously, the later snowpack has caused a lot of challenges for visitors and staff. There’s a lot of snow left, but it’s been melting pretty quickly in the past few weeks. Now we’re dealing with high water crossings and wet trails, but it’s also good in that it gives this wilderness area a bit of a break this year.

What are some long term challenges Desolation Wilderness faces?

I would say mitigating impacts and I don’t mean just with resources but more so on the experience. Mitigating impacts without having to limit the number of visitors, even more as it stands now. We’re only getting busier, and day hikers make up the majority of our numbers. 

Managing a wilderness is very tricky because you have to keep your resource intact but you can’t over-manage it to the point it’s not a wilderness anymore. We’re walking that fine line between making sure visitors have an enjoyable, safe, pleasant experience while also not guiding them to their exact campsite.

Are there any new obstacles on Desolation’s plate? Perhaps something that wasn’t an issue 5-10 years ago?

It’s not necessarily a modern obstacle, but over the past few years it’s been a trend: we are seeing increased bear activity including their success in getting food. For example, this year we have a bear in the Lake Aloha area that has been able to get down bear hangs. I don’t really know the quality or accuracy of these bear hangs. We have some bears who are particularly habituated in how to get hangs down. Because of this, we are advocating bear canisters even more. We have them to borrow at the ranger’s station for free. We’re communicating our bear issues to visitors any chance we get.

Something else which sticks out and isn’t a pleasant topic would be human waste. Improper disposal of these things including toilet paper. We advocate packing out your waste and TP, and we even distribute little black bags when we issue permits and ask visitors to pack out their toilet paper in the black bag. If people do their part now, hopefully, we won’t get to the point of requiring bear canisters or requiring people to pack out their waste. We need to be more responsible, especially in the heavily used areas.

What’s a positive way technology has impacted Desolation Wilderness?

A pro to technology would be the campsite inventory program that we have, allowing us to monitor all of the campsites in DW. We are transitioning to working on tablets and with GIS (geographic information system). Previously, we were carrying clipboards, tons of paper, binders, you name it. It will greatly improve our data collection abilities and it’s great that we can tie it into GIS.

What are some challenges you see with technology and its use in Desolation?

There are plenty of apps and GPS based options, like AllTrails. Some are for PCT hikers that show them were campsites are. Our staff constantly monitors these references to ensure that they’re giving out proper information and we’ll send out requests for information to be changed, clarified or removed. 

Something we see is that people use and heavily rely on these apps/technology/electronics. I see visitors not preparing and researching as well, making all their decisions solely based on their app/electronics. They come in without a map, follow their GPS and then something happens to it. It dies or gets damaged and they don’t possess the skills or tools to work outside of their electronics.

We have also noticed some worrying trends this year with Spot devices, InReaches, and other emergency communication devices. It seems that people are activating them too soon or aren’t aware of the severity involved when activating these devices. We have had some instances where it wasn’t necessary to activate; these individuals could have taken their time, made a plan, rested longer, hiked out slower, etc. This results in a drain on our resources, from unnecessary helicopter flights to someone being located. This also impacts other visitors when you have a helicopter in your wilderness evacuating someone. 

As a Wilderness Ranger, could you expand on the value and role volunteers or volunteer groups provide in the stewardship of Desolation?

With so many visitors, there’s a lot of areas our rangers can’t cover and visitors they can’t talk to. We focus our patrols in the heavily used areas and areas we are doing trail work.

Volunteers and volunteer groups, like Wilderness Volunteers, are able to help us take care of projects that we wouldn’t be able to accomplish outside of our normal job. Trail work, trail clearing, campsite restoration, campsite monitoring— volunteers are all crucial in allowing us to complete these larger-scale projects. We work with many volunteer programs, from Desolation Wilderness Volunteers, Back Country Horsemen, SCA, conservation organizations from where we get our interns.

Having Wilderness Volunteers out every year lets us tackle a major project like rock work, removing illegal campsites on popular or busy lakes over a week. The efforts from volunteers also allow us to reach the most visitors and inform about wilderness ethics and safety. Our volunteers are like an extension of the rangers as they are helping us meet our goals.

What would you say to someone who was perhaps unfamiliar with or on the fence about the stewardship of public lands?

We need to have people to manage and protect these areas so that they don’t get loved to death. Stewardship allows you to build a personal connection to a place. You get to see your work, it builds that bond with that area that trail. As rangers, we see the areas in which we work as our second homes. We want to protect it, keep it safe and clean as you would with your own home. It’s not just for us, it’s for you and for future generations as well. 

When people volunteer and work in the wilderness they really feel fulfilled and there’s pride. They’re happy to see someone use that staircase they built and it’ll be there for their lifetime. Additionally, informing and encouraging people to be on the side of wilderness. So many people don’t know what wilderness is or understand the idea of it. That’s another reason we encourage people to volunteer; some people don’t know these things exist.

How do you develop the list of projects to be done in Desolation?

We have a DW Management Plan which outlines standards and guidelines in managing wilderness. From there, it’s a combination of field reports from rangers and volunteers. Our trails person and I will also hike out, trying to take care of the more impacted areas and busier trails, focusing on restoration and clearing trails. By working here over several seasons, you pick up on areas which need attention and we try to check those off year by year. 

The campsite monitoring program & GIS help as well; they allow us to input all this information into a database. I can perform very refined searches which can help inform which projects we’ll do.

There’s a work plan which is reviewed with my supervisor in winter and spring. We share our ideas, where we want to focus our efforts for that year, in addition to coordinating with the Lake Tahoe Basin Management Unit. They are in charge of ⅓ of Desolation and they’re a partner in all of this.

What are the top 3 most common violations you encounter with recreators inside the wilderness boundary?

It’s changed a bit over the years but recently it would be people not camping in their first night’s zone. For those unfamiliar, we have a zone quota system which dictates you stay in your selected zone for the first night of your trip. You can move elsewhere after that. It’s meant to minimize the impact on the land and the concentration of people throughout the wilderness. I’ve seen a lot of people with permits who camp somewhat close and some who are way off from their zone. We try to stress the importance of abiding by your zone because when you don’t your presence negatively impacts the land and those who are properly camped in their zone.

Second would campfires, although thankfully we aren’t encountering them as much this year. The majority of visitors have their permits, which they’ve obtained online at Frequently, people aren’t thoroughly reading their permits and acknowledging their restrictions beforehand. Have you read and understood your permit? Did you sign your permit? The common violations we encounter are clearly defined in your permit.

The third and frequent violation is camping too close to water. This is a big problem for us. DW requires you camp 100 ft. from water; LNT asks 200 ft. from water. This is important to bring up because our rangers spend a lot of time moving people back away from the water. Sometimes we literally have to move everyone’s camp back. Everyone wants to camp right by the water, and that creates impacted illegal sites.

Desolation offers a wide variety of activities to engage in. When you’re not working, what’s your favorite thing to do out here?

I like fishing and go quite a bit. I like reading, enjoying the peace and quiet. Taking in the sounds of the wind, birds. I like photography, it’s hard to not take pictures when you’re in such a beautiful place. Spending time with my family out there. Backpacking trips with my friends as well. It’s nice to share my world with them and open their eyes to what the wilderness is; a lot of them don’t go backpacking. Maybe I’ll climb a peak every once in a while.

What are three things the general recreating public can do to make Wilderness Rangers lives easier?

It’s the first tenet of Leave No Trace: plan ahead and prepare. If someone plans, prepares, and researches the area thoroughly and ahead of time, it makes all the difference. It goes beyond getting your permit. Knowing the regulations and current conditions. You’re heading out into the middle of nowhere for several days, you should really be prepared. Sometimes I see that lacking and it astounds me.

Number two: not camping too close to the water or in a sensitive area. It’s pretty awkward for us to tell people to move their campsite. It would honestly make our lives easier: we wouldn’t have to move everyone’s campsites and would remove unpleasant contacts. Some people get upset; I’ve been told I’ve ruined someone’s trip because I had them move their campsite back 50 more feet.

Lastly, be a good example. Everyone’s an “experienced hiker” these days and should be setting a good example for other visitors by being a wilderness steward. We need more stewards to not only spread the word about wilderness but to also actually practice good techniques out there. Sometimes I don’t see this happen with people that clearly have hiking experience.

What’s the coolest thing you’ve seen during your time in Desolation?

Hmmm… that depends. The Perseid meteor shower is always amazing. The height of it lasts a couple of nights… we sleep outside of our tents. It’s a really memorable, cool experience just being able to see countless shooting stars.

Is there an animal you’re dying to see in Desolation that you have yet to? (photo courtesy of CA Dept. of Fish & Wildlife)

I haven’t seen a bear or mountain lion, but I can’t say that I’m dying to see one. I would love to see a Wolverine, but that’s not going to happen. Maybe there was one reported as far south as Truckee…It’s my favorite animal and it’s not a practical answer for Desolation. I’d be interested in seeing a mountain lion from across the canyon. That’s something that I think would be cool. I don’t want to encounter one, but to see one across a lake or at a far distance would be awesome.

What’s a future goal for Desolation?

A future goal we have is to update the management plan in Desolation. We have some issues that need to be addressed and any changes would have to be done so through this update. If we have to institute bear canisters or even designated campsites, it would be a long process involving a lot of approval.

What excites or inspires you about working in Desolation Wilderness?

Our volunteer program excites me because in 2018 DW Volunteers completed the most hours ever at ~4250. Our program is growing and we add a few more volunteers each year. I’m excited about what they accomplish and know we’ll get even more done. They’re at trailheads talking to hikers, educating visitors, conducting community outreach presentations. I’m really big on reaching visitors before they get to the trails. Once they’re in the wilderness, there’s little opportunity to change.

Ok, final question. Part of my job is understanding how volunteers feel about their projects: they want to know the work they’re doing is needed and meaningful. Overall, how does working with volunteers make you feel?

After I spend time working alongside volunteers, I feel a connection with them. I really appreciate that they’re out there putting forth their time and energy in helping us maintain our wilderness area. It’s more than a working relationship. There’s a personal connection, a friendship, and I consider them a part of our wilderness family. Over the years I’ve made some really good friends. Something about wilderness brings out a personal connection between people. If you spend the time or overnight with someone, inevitably you have a deep conversation.

On behalf of Wilderness Volunteers, I just want to say thank you and that we greatly value our partnership with the Eldorado National Forest. We're excited about our upcoming September project and the future ones as well. 

If you would like to learn more or join our awesome upcoming project in Desolation Wilderness, visit the project page.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Meet our 2019 WV intern...

For the past few years, Wilderness Volunteers has had an annual intern. Our interns participate in at least 3 service projects and document their experience through writing, photography, and other expressive mediums. This year's WV intern is Alixandra Schoback, who goes by Alix for short. Take a second to meet this California native who is setting out to improve public land management.

Please tell us about yourself...

My name is Alix, I’m 19 years old, and I’m a student at U.C. Berkeley. I’m studying political science and environmental economics and policy. I’m going to be starting my senior year this fall. I’m originally from Marin County but my family moved to Santa Cruz when I was in 5th grade. My parents still live there and I absolutely love it.

In a perfect world, what’s your dream job once you finish college?

In a perfect world, I would like to work in public lands management in some way, shape or form. I would love to work with US Fish & Wildlife or the USFS. I’m not sure if my educational experience would be applicable to field positions, but I would like to do administrative stuff. I would focus on ensuring we are managing our public lands better from the top down.

What’s a fun fact about you? 

My first job was at the Boardwalk in Santa Cruz making ice cream cones.

Are you planning to go to grad school?

I’m currently debating between grad school and law school. I either want to get my degree in law or get my masters in public affairs with a focus in environmental policy. I’m not sure which avenue I’ll be taking but I do plan to take some time off.

How would you describe your relationship with the great outdoors and public lands? How has that evolved over time?

My relationship with public lands began very late. My parents are very involved and into backpacking and hiking... stuff like that. As a kid, I was having none of that. I was an indoor kid. I like to read, do crafts, stay at home; I didn’t play any sports nor was I very physically active.

A couple of years back I went backpacking for the first time and it totally transformed my relationship with these places... mostly because I realized what an effect being outside for a prolonged period of time had. Distancing yourself from the typical “necessities” which are truly luxuries in modern life. Distancing myself from all that and spending time in nature really grounded and centered me. It feels like a homecoming when I go on a trip, even if I haven’t been there before. It feels like within myself I am where I should be, where I want to be. It’s an incredible relationship and I feel very lucky that I get to go to these places and experience that. Some people don't get this opportunity.

Would you describe yourself as an indoor or outdoor cat?

I’m definitely an outdoor cat. I do things my own way, I don’t spend a lot of time worrying about what I’m supposed to be doing. I find my own path and I like to be outside.

When you’re not in school or you’re not outside, how do you like to spend your free time?

In my free time, I like to exercise a lot, which is another reason I like backpacking and being outside. Those activities provide built-in physical activity and help with positive endorphins... they help me sleep well. I like to craft, I like to sing and play the ukelele, and I like to sew things.

Did you ever consider stewardship or conservation work before your WV internship or your WV project?

No actually. I considered going into a field that would allow me to work to protect public lands when I first started backpacking. It was really on my first WV trip where I met Taryn; she explained her experience with AmeriCorps which seemed really cool to me. It’s still an opportunity I’m considering, especially the more I go backpacking.

How do you think your generation sees public lands?

Broadly speaking for my generation, I think it depends on who you talk to, and depends on where you grow up and where you come from. That’s one of the biggest things to address in increasing public awareness and access to our public lands. You will meet people who grew up surrounded by nature, or who grew up in families who had the time, the resources and energy to take their kids outside. That’s a luxury in itself. I have a lot of friends who are very involved with the outdoors and they think it’s super important to protect these spaces.

At the same time, I think it’s easy for people of my generation who don’t have that exposure to not know that these spaces are plentiful and there is so much to be gained from experiencing them. In the age of social media and the internet, the pressures young people face in achieving success is intense. It’s easy to get wrapped up in that. Maybe thinking you can’t take the time to step back and take time for yourself, to engage and appreciate this resource. One of the big reasons that I care about this matter is that people need to know that public lands, National Parks, just don’t take care of themselves. There are a lot of hard-working people who do the work, but there needs to be much more support, funding and focus from the government. There needs to be more advocacy from the people in order to keep these spaces as they should be.

How would you create awareness or a developed relationship between younger demographics and public lands?

We all know these places exist. I didn’t have a deep connection, deep care, or deep passion until I actually went and spent time outside. I think we need to acknowledge the realities of this generation which looks like social media and the internet, to leverage those assets to appeal to younger generations.

There is a bit of a disconnect in the way we talk about preserving public lands and the way that plays into our overall environment, like fears about climate change. They are obviously integral to each other, but I don’t see that discussed as much as it should be. There’s a lot of young people who are passionate about working to mitigate climate change, but I don’t think the connection is made between public lands and climate change. I think outreach would be helpful, but unfortunately, it's a chicken-egg situation. As more young people get involved, I think more young people will be interested. Seeing their peers doing things to combat climate change and work to preserve public lands will make them see they can do it too!

How did you get involved in WV and what was your first trip?

I knew about WV because my mom donated years back. She had a WV shirt and hat. I was always aware of the organization but I wasn’t sure what they did. A year ago now, last summer, I was looking for something to do while all my friends were all off doing cool things. I wanted to do something cool too, so I came across the Hakalau NWR trip on the Big Island. It as an incredible experience. I’m being honest when I say it was life-changing.

What do you hope to learn or experience during your WV internship?

I think that the biggest thing has been meeting a variety of people from everywhere who care about the outdoors for different reasons. I’ve had so much fun learning about the technical aspect of projects: learning what all the tools are named, the different types of trail work and why we’re doing it. The different native plant species being planted and where. The biggest thing is the people because that’s fundamentally what we need. We need human involvement, we need people to care in order for things to improve and change. Learning about people’s journeys to stewardship and conservation has been really interesting. It provides insight as to where I could be going, and where I can meet other people along the way who also deeply care about this issue.

As of today, you’ve completed two projects for your internship. Do have any unexpected highlights to share from your time so far?

I’m going to talk about the people you meet on trips again. It was really incredible meeting people from all across the country. On our Big Bear project, I met a trip leader and his wife from Portland, Oregon. During our project, we all got to know each other very well. Once the trip wrapped, they reached out via email saying I was welcomed at their home in Portland whenever or even to say hi. It was so unexpected, hospitable, so kind and generous. That trip also had incredible food, which was surprising to me. I was expecting a backpacking type of food. This was a car camp trip, so I get there and I was really tired. I took a nap and woke up at dinner time. I introduced myself and was greeted with lasagna. Lasagna! It was absolutely delicious.

What’s your favorite backpacking meal or food?

I’m hungry so this is a great question. Last summer I went on a backpacking trip in Wyoming. My mom had these Tasty Bite lentils. I had never had them before but they were so delicious. We got back home and we had more in the cabinet. My mom said, “sometimes these things are only good when camping…” but I ate it and it was just as delicious!

What’s your first move when you return from a backpacking trip?

In-N-Out is my first move. This was my literal first move coming back from the Shasta-Trinity project. I was driving someone else back from our project and we stopped at In-N-Out. We got our burgers, ate them quietly and looked at each other. “Should we go again?” We got back into the drive-through line and went again. I regretted it a little bit, but it was still so great.

REI garage sales: take it or leave it?

I say take it definitely. It’s important when we talk about spending time outside and spending time outdoors is to reduce our waste as much as possible. Buying second hand, used, and fixing our current gear is a great way to accomplish this.

Who do you admire in the world?

Is it too tacky to say, my mom?

Oh my god no! That's a great answer. 

My mom. My mom has taught me so much in my life. She has taught me how to be aware of my own emotions and intelligent about the way I feel. It’s really hard and a difficult thing to learn. My mom has instilled that in me forever. She’s a great teacher, role model, and works super hard. She’s really driven and she’s the most loving, caring woman. When my friends meet my mom, they know why I am who I am. Sometimes we clash but I really admire her for everything she’s done.

Where have you been lately that’s been amazing?

This year, one of the best moments I had was skiing up in Tahoe. My friends from school and I would go up throughout the season. There’s this one run at Alpine. It was a huge powder day and we sat at the top. Eventually, we slowly made out way down and it was one of the best feelings ever. One of the best views ever and you couldn’t beat it.

Any future domestic travel goals?

I guess I’m saying it, so now I have to do it. After I graduate from school, I plan to hike the PCT. My plan is to do it in 2021. I’m taking an extra semester and I’ll graduate in fall. I’ll take the fall and winter to prepare and get ready. It’s a lofty goal, and we’ll see with the fire and snow. It’s something that has always fascinated me.

In a perfect permit world, which direction?


Peak bagging: take it or leave it?

Take it. Take it!

In camp leisure footwear: Crocs or sandals?

I'm definitely a sandals person. I had a great pair of Tevas, but they melted in Death Valley. I’ve been working with flip flops which aren’t ideal. I should probably change that...

Do you have a favorite trail working tool?