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Interns benefit wilderness in many ways

Wilderness Information Specialist Will Rietveld talks with visitors in the Weminuche Wilderness.

Training a new employee is often time consuming and costs a business a great deal of money and resources. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, 1 in 3 employees in the U.S. leave his or her job for a new position each year. Many leave because the job is not a good fit.

An intern by definition is an advanced student or recent graduate undergoing supervised practical training. Internships benefit the employer by allowing them to see if the employee is a good fit for the position before spending too many resources on training. Internships benefit the student by giving them on the job experience, building confidence and developing personal references for the future.

According to the National Association of Colleges, in 2011, 67 percent of interns were offered full-time positions where they interned. Eighty-five percent of companies now use internships and similar experiential education programs to recruit a full-time workforce. Many colleges, like Fort Lewis for example, have internship programs that help connect students to their chosen career opportunities.

The Wilderness Monitoring Internship program, operated by the San Juan National Forest since 1999, annually recruits four to five interns who are supervised by a paid Forest Service seasonal employee with the primary focus of monitoring human impacts in wilderness, trail work and public contact. The data collected by these interns helps the Forest Service with their management decisions for wilderness.

Since 1988, San Juan Mountains Association has coordinated the highly successful Wilderness Information Specialist program in partnership with the SJNF. WIS volunteers are uniformed volunteers who travel wilderness trails and speak to visitors about Leave No Trace, trail etiquette, trail conditions, safety and other pertinent trail information. The WIS program focuses on providing volunteer field presence and communication to the public in high-use areas such as Chicago Basin and other wilderness areas. On occasion, WIS volunteers do light trail maintenance.

This year, because of Forest Service recreation budget reductions of nearly 50 percent, there is a necessity to look at merging these two programs in order to enhance service delivery, reduce costs and increase program efficiency.

Now Wilderness interns, recruited with the help of SJMA and trained by the Forest Service, will blend with the WIS program and offer monitoring skills, trail work, public contact and more. Young interns will have the opportunity to see what it is like to work in the natural resource field and gain knowledge first hand of what it takes to manage this resource using science, data collection and education. This will expand “boots on the ground” for our local wilderness areas.

In addition, WIS volunteers will have opportunities to work side by side with the younger interns and share their life experience and knowledge. SJMA will continue to recruit and train volunteers who are interested in being Wilderness ambassadors to visitors, while assisting the Forest Service with the intern program.

We are excited about expanding the capacity of these programs, and being able to do more with each of them. If you are interested in either one of these programs, contact kathe@sjma.org.

SJMA promotes responsible care of natural and cultural resources through education and hands-on involvement that inspires respect and reverence for our lands.

Kathe Hayes is volunteer program director with San Juan Mountains Association, a nonprofit dedicated to public land stewardship and education.