His way with the wilderness

June 13, 2002 12:00 am

By ADAM ASHTON

Stanislaus National Forest Wilderness Coordinator Bob Wetzel keeps a dog-eared pocketbook copy of Congress' 1964 Wilderness Act with him.

He tapes trail maps over the windows of his cluttered office.

He seeks out untouched hideaways in the forest for his own excursions.

"I fell in love with wilderness when I clambered into one of the wildest parts of the park — the Mokelumne Wilderness," Wetzel, 50, said.

"It's a very quiet, wild and rugged place. It's pretty daunting every time you clamber into the canyon. There are few if any trails; those that are there are only faintly there. And that's by choice. People want there to be places left like that. Parts of the wilderness are so pristine they are virtually trail-less and we have a challenge to keep them that way.

"You never go in there without getting a little lost and probably losing a pint of blood," he said.

In the midst of his 27-year career with the Forest Service, Wetzel now has a chance to shape national land management policy as a member of the Wilderness Advisory Group, a committee of eight wilderness coordinators charged with identifying ways to improve America's most untouched national forest lands.

"We're trying to get wilderness from its current, sometimes loved-to-death, sometimes overused state to the desired, fully-restored condition," Wetzel said.

Each committee member represents a national Forest Service region. Wetzel's counterparts come from forests on Alaska, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Montana, New Mexico and the upper Midwest region.

Advisory Group supervisor Kimberly Bown, who worked with Wetzel when he first came to Stanislaus 18 years ago, said the members make up a select group of dedicated field coordinators.

Two of Wetzel's Stanislaus forest coworkers nominated him for the position. The advisory group held its first meeting in Washington, D.C., last month.