Teaching Wilderness - Ep.024

Teaching Wilderness | Liz Gottlieb | Bay Area Blended Consortium | Ep. 024

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Liz Gottlieb and Her Wilderness Studies Students

Release Date: January 9th, 2020

In this episode, I am speak with Liz Gottlieb from Marin Academy and the Bay Area Blended Consortium about her new Wilderness Studies course for High School students. This is a unique offering for students to learn about wilderness ethics and history in the classroom and to immerse themselves in the backcountry to gain real world experience. To learn more about the Bay Area Blended Consortium please visit https://www.blendedconsortium.org/

Course Description:


This course is a summer experiential trip combined with an intensive fall trimester and is open to rising juniors and seniors.

The West has always spanned a range of wild spaces and landscapes. For thousands of years, humans have lived in this wilderness. For the last 200 years, humans have ravaged many of these wildernesses. And yet, in 2019 large tracts of wilderness still exist within the Western United States.

This course will examine the value of wilderness and public land (commons land) in the year 2019. What is the value of these lands (and waters) to the people who use, manage, conserve, appreciate, or have traditionally lived on them? We will use a week-long field experience to the Great Burn Recommended Wilderness of Montana and a weekend expedition to Point Reyes National Seashore to probe both the historical and current relationships between humans and these wild, largely untamed landscapes. Guiding questions for this course are:

  • Who is wilderness for? What groups have been historically underrepresented in conversations related to wilderness? What effects may these exclusions have on society and the environment? How do we begin to change this story?

  • How do we balance the preservation of public land with the need for local people to make a livelihood off the land?

  • What, if any, models can we use to balance the preservation of wildland ecosystems and the current and future use of public land by humans for tourism, recreation, and utilitarian purposes? Can there be any land that humans are not managing or influencing?

  • How important is collaboration between governments, non-profits, businesses, user groups, and cities in the process of public land conservation?

To answer these questions, students will participate in backpacking and camping trips to immerse themselves in the lands we’re studying while engaging with local experts who approach these landscapes from different ethical and practical approaches. Readings will provide additional knowledge in both the history of these spaces as well as current information and debates surrounding the use and management of the Great Burn and the Point Reyes National Seashore.

The trimester course will include weekly Zoom group discussions as well as three face-to-face trips including the two intensive field experiences. Field experiences will involve rigorous academic work and will be physically demanding. Students will maintain a cultural and natural history journal throughout the course and engage in weekly readings, discussions, and reflections. Students will be asked to articulate their own land ethic by the end of the course by considering the significance of wilderness from their own personal lens, the field experiences from this course, and their understandings of the cultural, political, ethical, historical and economic perspectives addressed in the course. Students will be challenged to apply their learnings from the class, and make recommendations (based on sound research and the understanding of multiple perspectives) regarding the future of the Great Burn Recommended Wilderness and the future of agriculture and tule elk in Pt. Reyes National Seashore.

Course Outline

Module A: Precourse Reading (American Wilderness, The Big Burn) & Introduction to Canvas, Rubrics & Class Expectations

Module 1: What is Wilderness

(Wilderness Act)

Module 2: Montana Field Experience; Great Burn Recommended Wilderness

(7 day trip to Great Burn Wilderness with front and backcountry experience including a 4-day backpacking trip)

Module 3: Identity, Nature & Wilderness

(Explore groups that have been represented and underrepresented in conversation and decisions related to wilderness. What effects did these exclusions/inclusions have on society and the environment? What is your own connection to wilderness?)

Module 4: Pt. Reyes National Seashore; General Management Plan, EIS Evaluation

(2 day overnight trip to Pt. Reyes National Seashore. Stay in Historic Lifeboat station.)

Module 5: Conservation & Management Intervention

(Conservation Biology, Conservation Science; Evaluate the pros and cons of management intervention (like climate change mitigation, invasive species management, endangered species protection) within wilderness designation and outside wilderness designations)

Module 6: Podcast Project

(Incorporate a wilderness concept and identity one thesis that you want to explore related to wilderness.)

Examples: (Ok to share)






    • American Wilderness : A New History, Carolyn Finney’s Black faces, White Spaces, Reimagining the Relationship of African Americans to the Great Outdoors 

    • Anzaldua, Gloria.  “Towards a New Consciousness.”  The Borderlands: 77‐91.

    • Egan, Timothy, "The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire That Saved America." Mariner Books, 2010.

    • First National People of Color Leadership Summit.  “The Principles of Environmental Justice.” 1991.

    • Nash, R. (2001). Wilderness and the American Mind (5th Ed.) New Haven: Yale University Press

    • Nelson, Melissa. “Becoming Metis.”

    • The Colors of Nature. Ed. Alison H. Deming & Lauret E. Savoy.  Minneapolis: Milkweed Editions, 2002

      • Owens, Louis.  “Burning the Shelter.” 

    • William Cronon’s, “The Trouble with Wilderness; or Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.”

    • Snyder, Gary.  “The Etiquette of Freedom.”  The Practice of the Wild: 3‐24.

    • Watt, Laura Alice. "The Paradox of Preservation: Wilderness and Working Landscapes at Point Reyes National Seashore. University of California, Pres, 2017."

    • William H. Whyte, The Last Landscape (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002 [1968]). 

About Liz...

Liz teaches Chemistry, Advanced Biology, and Environmental Science at Marin Academy. She also coaches the Cross Country team at MA and leads a number of running, hiking, and restoration outings. She has led summer trips to Alaska to study biodiversity, the high Sierras to study climate change (& pika) and the American Prairie Reserve in Montana to participate in citizen science projects.

Liz was a founding BlendEd Consortium teacher, leading 3 successful cycles of the Bay Area Field Ecology course and is excited to pioneer a new immersive blended/hybrid model with the Wilderness Studies Summer/Fall trimester course.

Liz earned a B.A. from Colby College and also a Masters in Science from Montana State University. She began her teaching career by participating in Teach for America, where she taught seventh- and eighth-grade science at Roosevelt Middle School in Compton, California.

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