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Summer 2005 Issue
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Of Wolves, Wilderness and WMI
By John Gans, NOLS Executive Director
Wilderness Medicine Institute Director Melissa Gray and NOLS Executive Director John Gans

With this Leader we continue to celebrate the 40th anniversary of wilderness and leadership education. As we celebrate our anniversary, we are also celebrating other milestones. On a personal note, 25 years ago I arrived at the Noble Hotel in Lander to start my NOLS Instructor course. That course was my first expedition into the Wind River Mountains, and I was in awe of the range’s beauty and amazed at what a great classroom it was for wilderness education. After driving across the sagebrush flats of central Wyoming, I was also amazed to experience the lush beauty of mountain glaciers. I didn’t want to leave the Winds at the end of that course, and I guess in so many ways I have not.

Another milestone we celebrate is the 15th anniversary of the Wilderness Medicine Institute of NOLS (WMI). This Leader contains an article on the first WEMT course taught at WMI. While WMI was not part of NOLS from the start, it has become an integral part of our educational mission. With core values that are so similar, it seems like we were destined to join forces in teaching wilderness skills and leadership.

Another significant anniversary in Wyoming this year is the 10th anniversary of the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone and the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem. I recently had the pleasure of listening to biologist Douglas W. Smith discuss the results of the first decade and pose questions as we go forward. Dr. Smith has been the project leader for the Yellowstone Gray Wolf Restoration Project in Yellowstone from the start. He recently released a new book, Decade of the Wolf, co-written with Gary Ferguson. Doug, like so many leaders, got his start at NOLS in the Wind Rivers nearly 30 years ago. To quote Doug: “My debt to NOLS is great. My course in the Wind Rivers may be one of the most important classes of my life — I still think low impact in everything I

There is no issue in Wyoming that is more charged than the issue of wolf reintroduction. The views of ranchers, wilderness aficionados, outfitters and government leaders are often a volatile mix of charged opinions. Doug is effective and respected when speaking to any of these groups. He has earned that respect through great communication skills, solid fact based research, self-awareness, competence, the ability to tolerate a little adversity when facing a few audiences, and great expedition behavior. All of these qualities are the same qualities we strive to teach in our leadership curriculum. He is yet another graduate of whom we can be so proud.

Students at NOLS Rocky Mountain have had the opportunity to benefit first hand from wolf reintroduction and Doug’s work. Whether observing wolf tracks, wolf sightings, hearing their eerie howl, or just knowing they’re out there, reintroduction has further enhanced the feeling of wild in our classrooms. And who knows what student of today is inspired by these moments to follow in Doug’s path.

As we continue to celebrate our anniversary, it is a joy to look back at our rich history, retell the stories, remember close friends and relive the powerful experiences of the wilderness. Yet, I find even greater joy in watching our new students arrive in Lander and check into the Noble Hotel with apprehension and anticipation of their month ahead in the mountains. As they look with trepidation at the heavy snow in the mountains, these students are on their way to becoming our future leaders and our future wilderness experts. I can only imagine where they will end up and what their gifts to our world will be. It gives me confidence to know they will help define our future and the future of wild lands.


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