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Jan 23 2015

MWA Celebrates a Conservation Hero

For 35 years Kari Gunderson kept good care of the Mission Mountains Wilderness

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For the past 35 years, wilderness ranger Kari Gunderson has educated hikers and horsemen in the Mission Mountains Wilderness, cleared trails, and kept the wilderness wild. That’s why Montana Wilderness Association’s Shining Mountains Chapter recently named Gunderson the 2014 “Conservation Hero.”

Recently retired, Gunderson began working as a Forest Service wilderness ranger in the Mission Mountains in 1979. Five years later, the Forest Service began shifting work from government employees to contractors. Gunderson submitted a successful bid to continue her work as a contractor.

No matter what patch was on her shoulder during the work season, Gunderson devoted her days on the trail to making sure that the Mission Mountains stayed wild. During the winters she continued her schooling, completing a doctorate.

Gunderson is now an adjunct professor in the University of Montana’s College of Forestry and Conservation, where she teaches classes in the Wilderness and Civilization Program.

“Kari was definitely one of the super-stars in wilderness management.  Not only was she passionate about her wilderness management work in the Mission Mountains, she had a profound effect on wilderness management and education nationally,” said Chris Ryan, a Shining Mountains Chapter board member and former Forest Service regional wilderness manager who worked with Gunderson throughout her career.

As she accepted the award on December 15, Gunderson reflected on some of her associations with MWA over the years. John Gatchell, MWA’s conservation director, was an unsuccessful bidder for the wilderness ranger contract that Gunderson won. Gunderson said she was pleased that Gatchell went on to work successfully on behalf of wilderness in Montana for so many years.

Gunderson recalled running into Gatchell and his family in the Mission Mountains Wilderness some years ago.  She recruited his kids to help her install tree-saver straps for a rope that horsemen could tie their horses to.

Gunderson praised Zack Porter for his work with college students at the University of Montana, Carroll College, and Montana State University. This past summer, Gunderson needed to remove 50 plastic water bars from trails in the Mission Mountains. Each water bar weighed 50 pounds and some were miles from the trailhead. Recruited by Porter, University of Montana college students removed them all. The plastic water bars have since been replaced by natural water bars, appropriate in wilderness.

Gunderson was the first recipient of the Shining Mountains Chapter’s “Conservation Hero” award, which honors the work of people who keep the wild in Montana’s wildlands.