Tag Archives: wilderness

Women in the outdoors give hunting a shot




On a warm autumn Saturday, three women gather together at Wallkill River National Wildlife Refuge with their crossbows and archery equipment. Reminiscent of Katniss Everdeens’ from the Hunger Games Trilogy, these women may also inspire more youth and adult women to take up bow hunting. Mikalia, Maria, and Tanya are participating in a Women in the Outdoors hunt, and members of the refuge staff and National Wild Turkey Federation are ready to guide them in the field.

The three women are novice or inexperienced bow hunters, and the dedicated refuge hunt for women, by women, offers a unique opportunity for them to ask questions and get hands-on experience with experts. It is the second annual Women in the Outdoors hunt at the refuge, offered through a partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wild Turkey federation.



The refuge is closed this day to everyone else. In the quiet, Refuge Law Enforcement Officer Mike McMenamin looks for signs of deer. Like a biology detective, he points out a broken branch where a buck rubbed his scent, hoof scrapes on the ground, and other places where deer had left a mark.

Chelsea Utter, wildlife refuge specialist and a National Wild Turkey Federation hunt mentor, sits patiently and quietly with Mikalia. Chelsea explains the sounds to listen for to track deer. The women will spend hours through the afternoon until dark in the blind.



For a Women in the Outdoors hunt, each participant is paired with a more experienced mentor. This one-on-one allows for a strong personal connection and comfortable relationship for learning. Mentors provide guidance on all aspects of the sport, including hunting safety, wildlife tracking, taking a first shot, and processing a deer for food.

Chelsea was a mentor for the first time the previous year. Her first mentee aimed her bow and her arrow hit her mark, a buck. Chelsea confessed that after hunting for six years, she had yet to have a successful hunt. The hunt was a proud moment for both women.

Sitting this year with Mikalia in the blind, Chelsea hopes that today she might experience that feeling of accomplishment again. Mentoring has become her favorite part of the women’s hunt program, and she hopes that her mentees might become mentors themselves some day.

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Tanya is an example of how this unique program can foster a love of hunting. On the recommendation of a friend, Tanya decided to try out the Women in the Outdoors hunt in 2016. She loved the event so much, she’s returned this year. Today, her hunt will prove successful…a milestone!



Wanting to share her newfound pastime with her son, Tanya encouraged him to enroll and participate in the refuge’s youth hunt. “It can be difficult for new or non-hunters to gain access to the knowledge, guidance, places and opportunities to gain the confidence and experience to safely, ethically, and successfully go into the field. The women’s mentored hunt provided all of those resources openly and wholeheartedly to me. The refuge hunts are special opportunities that are appreciated so much more than the mentors will ever know,” she says.

Chelsea says there’s nothing better than seeing the excitement of the participants and their eagerness to continue hunting. She says that she hopes that after participating in the program women aren’t as intimidated to get out into the woods by themselves, become part of a community of hunting enthusiasts, and feel comfortable with all stages of the hunting experience. She hopes to share with others how hunting can be a favorite pastime, an opportunity to enjoy the outdoors, and a way to provide food for your family and friends.



In recognition of their hunting programs, Wallkill National Wildlife Refuge was recently awarded the Robert E. Eriksen Conservation Award by the board of directors of the New Jersey chapter of the National Wild Turkey Federation.

Wilderness at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.

Wednesday Wisdom – Margaret “Mardy” Murie

Margaret “Mardy” Murie  has been called the “Grandmother of the conservation movement” thanks to her dedication to American wilderness. She was instrumental in the establishment and expansion of Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and was on hand when President Johnson signed the Wilderness Act. She continued to fight for wilderness until her death at age 101 in 2003.

Wilderness at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.

Wilderness at Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge in Maine.

Celebrating 50 years of wilderness

Today, September 3, 2014, marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, landmark legislation that currently protects over 100 million acres of federal lands that belong to you!


Our Service historian, Mark Madison, shares a bit of this wilderness history from those that were critical in seeking out wilderness protection on federal lands and some that ultimately made it happen.

Wild thing…you make my heart sing.

– The Troggs (1966)

The Troggs encapsulated the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act perfectly for the story of wilderness is intertwined with American history and identity. Initially European settlers to North America used wilderness in a pejorative manner. William Bradford stepped off the Mayflower into what he described as a “hideous and desolate wilderness.” Yet as places like New England became less and less wild, eventually wilderness was transformed from vice to virtue. Henry David Thoreau had tested the waters of wild places in Walden Pond and eventually Maine and Canada and concluded by 1851 that “in wildness is the preservation of the world.” The seemingly unspoiled American Southwest first came to the attention of a philosophically-minded U.S. forester named Aldo Leopold. Leopold observed the remaining New Mexican wilderness in the 1920s and noted “only when the end of the supply is in sight we ‘discover’ that the thing is valuable.”

Leopold went on to advocate successfully carving out 755,000 acres from national forest land to create the first Gila Wilderness Area on June 3, 1924. For the next 40 years, some forestlands were designated as wilderness areas, but wildlife refuges, parks, and other federal lands were left outside the realm of wilderness protection. In 1935, The Wilderness Society was founded to promote the expansion of the wilderness idea and many of its members began advocating strongly for a national wilderness system.

DID YOU KNOW…Great Swamp Refuge in New Jersey is the first designated wilderness area in the Department of the Interior?

Aldo Leopold suggested an intellectual justification for the new system noting wilderness reveals “what the land was, what it is, and what the land ought to be.” Olaus and Mardy Murie became strong advocates for the remaining wilderness areas in Alaska traveling to Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to advocate for its protection. Mardy Murie, an Alaska native, provided a powerful plea for protecting wilderness based on her own life and conservation ethic.

Perhaps there are men who feel no need for nature. . . . But for those who somehow feel unnurtured, missing something, groping for something satisfying, surely there should still be a place, a big place—wilderness.

Finally, Howard Zahniser, a former writer for the Fish and Wildlife Service, wrote the text of what became the Wilderness Act. Thanks to Zahniser, the Wilderness Act may be our most eloquent piece of federal legislation offering this illustrative definition of wilderness:

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.


Howard Zahniser, “Our Wilderness Preservation System.”

President Lyndon Johnson signed the Wilderness Act into law on September 3, 1964 noting:

If future generations are to remember us with gratitude rather than contempt, we must leave more than the miracle of technology. We must leave them a glimpse of the world as it was in the beginning, not just after we got through with it.

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The signing of the Wilderness Act in 1964. Credit: LBJ Library Photo by Cecil Stoughton

In the 50 years since the Act, nearly 110 million acres of wilderness lands have been created, over half of them in Alaska. These wilderness areas are as diverse as the concept they represent. The smallest wilderness encompasses a mere 5 acres on Florida’s Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge while Alaska’s Wrangell-St. Elias National Park has over 9 million acres of wilderness. Wilderness is found everywhere including in New Jersey where the Great Swamp Naitonal Wildlife Refuge has wilderness within view of the skyscrapers of Manhattan. These precious legacies are managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service, Bureau of Land Management, and the U.S. Forest Service as a gift that Americans have given to themselves and future generations.