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4 Best Ways Anyone Can Help Preserve & Protect Wilderness & Public Lands

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I got to talk with the US Forest Service’s Wilderness & Trails Technician for the Conasauga District in the Chattahoochee National Forest about the best, and most truly helpful ways for the general public to protect & preserve our public lands.

Because here’s the thing about “helping” professionals. Most of the time…it’s not actually helpful. It’s a little bit like when a 4 year old wash dishes. It’s great and all for, you know, helping the future generations or whatever. But it’s not great for getting the job done right now.

And when it comes to public lands, we all want the jobs (clear trails, healthy wildlife, clean water, carbon capture, recreation, etc) done right now. And there are thousands of highly skilled, brilliant, experienced professionals ready to get those jobs done. And the we all can do any of these four things to let them do their jobs.

1. Practice Leave No Trace Yourself + Clean Up Behind Others’ Traces

Trash slows every public land professional down. You can’t focus on clearing a trail when a campsite is trashed. You can’t build erosion bars or do wildlife counts when there is trash on the trail.

Trash takes time to clear. It takes up space and planning to pack out. It’s a real pain and keeps public land professionals from doing their jobs.

So the first way to help is to practice Leave No Trace yourself.

As a bonus, spread the word and tell others about Leave No Trace.

And as an extra bonus, if you see trash…pack it out. If you don’t pack it out, the Forest Service / National Park Service / State Park Service / Wildlife Resources is going to have to pack it out. And if you rather they spend their time on doing their job, pack in a trash bag and pack it out.

2. Provide Geo-Tagged, Photographic Feedback

Most public land management is all about triage and ranking priorities. And a lot of the triage is based on generic data. Trail managers will often just hear that “the Rough Ridge Trail is in rough shape!” or “someone needs to look at the Emery Creek Trailhead” – all with no context. This leads to time spent on scouting, overplanning, misplaced priorities and everything except the real work actually getting done.

But if public land managers can get high quality photos geo-tagged to a specific spot, they can know exactly what they are dealing with. If it’s a big project, they can get into the procurement queue. If it’s a small job, they can batch it when they are in the area – and make sure they have the right tools. Data makes everything more efficient.

So if you are out enjoying public lands and see an issue – take a photo or two and make sure you have the geo-tag feature turned on and note your latitude / longitude before sending in the feedback.

3. Volunteer with An Organized Group

Most public lands have some sort of organization with a working relationship with a government agency. They have long-standing contacts, a volunteer service agreement in place, and volunteer leaders who manage the logistics and hand-holding of volunteers.

They always need more people. And there are always more opportunities. And they already have a list of the most effective projects for the public to serve on.

I’m in Atlanta. So just a few examples include, the Cohutta Wilderness Trail Volunteers who work in the Cohutta Wilderness. Both the Benton MacKaye and Appalachian Trail clubs have big work groups. Save Georgia’s Hemlocks works with the Forest Service to vaccinate trees against invasive species. Every State Park has a Friends club. And the Georgia ForestWatch keeps up with one-off citizen science opportunities.

And every State and region is like this. There are so many organizations who have already done the hard work to be a single point of contact for public land managers. Now they just need people.

4. Write Your Congressional Representatives

Yes, yes, it feels like shouting into the void. But seriously, the best politicians have very finely attuned ears to the slightest change in public opinion. It’s their job to listen to constituents opinions and figure out a way to use those opinions to make things happen (and get re-elected). They are experts at changing one program from a “moneypit” to an “investment in our future” all in a single day.

Even if your representative isn’t aligned with your party or other views, if they know you are for funding public land…they can always cut deals and work political magic. Conservation has been a bipartisan endeavor since Teddy Roosevelt.

That’s it!

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