AIM History

Definition of Wilderness

From the Wilderness Act of 1964

A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized 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. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man’s work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value.

The Origins of AIM for Wilderness Stewardship

The year 2014 marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Wilderness Act, which enabled the creation of officially designated Wilderness Areas on federally managed land. Marking this anniversary, the heads of the federal agencies charged with administering all the Wilderness Areas created under this Act made a commitment to develop and refine programs to preserve these lands in as pristine a condition as possible. The U.S. Forest Service established a system under which each local Forest office would determine how closely the Wilderness Areas they manage retains “its primeval character and influence.”

Due to funding and staffing restraints imposed by the Congressional appropriation process, however, the Forests were not given sufficient funds or authority to hire people to go out into the Wilderness and measure its condition. Jonathan Brooks, a U.S. Forest Service wilderness manager in the Poplar Bluff Ranger District of the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri, realized that if he was to fulfill the requirement to measure the character of Wilderness, he would need volunteers. But given the low population density of southern Missouri, he realized that it would be very difficult to recruit enough volunteers to do the job. He wondered if it might be possible to do this on a much larger basis by creating a regional volunteer organization.

He learned about the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) based in North Carolina but working in Wilderness in several southeastern states. He thought this might be a model that could be followed here. He contacted the SAWS director, Bill Hodge, who was also the current chair of the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance (NWSA). NWSA is dedicated to supporting existing wilderness stewardship organizations and helping start new ones around the nation.

Together, they thought that the best approach would be to create a volunteer organization that would work in Arkansas, Illinois and Missouri.

At this point, NWSA contacted Chuck Bell, who had recently moved from northern Colorado to Arkansas. In 1995-96, Chuck had founded the very successful, nationally acclaimed Poudre Wilderness Volunteers, which has about 300 members who patrol and care for wilderness and backcountry areas throughout the Canyon Lakes Ranger District in Colorado. Chuck also had helped found other organizations, including a foundation that supports the Arapahoe & Roosevelt National Forests and Pawnee National Grasslands, a non-profit to provide outdoor activities for the visually impaired, and NWSA. He had also served on the boards of national and regional bird conservation organizations. He agreed to spearhead an effort to found a regional organization here to provide and manage volunteers engaged in wilderness stewardship.

The first meeting of interested parties took place in late June 2016. About 20 persons participated, representing the U.S. Forest Service, the U.S. National Park Service, leaders of wilderness support organizations and interested citizens. They agreed there is a definite need for the kind of regional organization envisaged and it made sense to approach it as a region-wide initiative, since only a very few of the individual wilderness areas are near enough to a significant source of volunteers. It was noted that the National Wilderness Stewardship Alliance (NWSA) has excellent resources on-line to use in forming an organization so we would not need “to reinvent the wheel.” The group also agreed that monitoring the Wilderness Areas seems to be the most urgent need, with education, and volunteer coordination and management coming second and third. Finally, they agreed they needed to identify a steering committee to work on the creation of a volunteer organization.

The group met again at the end of August 2016. Several participants agreed to join a steering committee. The group agreed that managing an organization that covered 29 Wilderness Areas in a large geographical region would require the services of a paid employee, and they asked the U.S. Forest Service representatives if they felt we could come up with enough financial support to meet the costs of program management. The group was given the assurance that the Forest Service puts a very high priority on the creation of a regional group here and that such support would be forthcoming. At this point the meeting participants voted to form an organization. They discussed several options for its name and then approved by acclamation that the name of the new organization will be Arkansas/Illinois/Missouri for Wilderness Stewardship, with the acronym of AIM. Chuck Bell, as the chair of the meeting, then proposed a Mission Statement he had drafted. After discussion, it was adopted by acclamation, and Chuck advised that he would finalize and circulate drafts of Bylaws and Articles of Incorporation. He would then submit them to Hugh Law, a St. Louis attorney, to review on a pro bono basis. To assure that they were proper and in accordance with Missouri law.

In late September 2016, the steering committee met and agreed to reconstitute itself as a Board of Directors. It formally approved the various documents required to officially form the organization, and it elected officers who then signed the Articles of Incorporation and the Bylaws. The next day, the Articles were submitted and accepted by the Missouri Secretary of State, making September 28, 2016 the official founding date of AIM for Wilderness Stewardship.

Chuck Bell and Anne Townsend signing AIM's incorporation papers
Chuck Bell and Anne Townsend signing AIM’s incorporation papers

Over the next two months, the Board applied for non-profit status from the U.S. Internal Revenue Service and began working on the documents required to apply for assistance from the U.S. Forest Service. It was agreed that it will still take AIM several months before it is in a financial position to hire an Executive Director and launch an ambitious program of wilderness stewardship in our three states.