Our Mission

& Values

Our Mission

Founded in 2010, the Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS) is a conservation non-profit organization dedicated to educating, cultivating, and empowering an engaged public and the next generation in the stewardship of public lands in our backyard. At SAWS, we believe that taking care of our public lands and connecting them to the next generation matters. We also believe that it is our shared responsibility to care for these lands, and to educate, train, and develop a skilled workforce to be the next conservation stewards and conservation leaders.

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We are passionate and knowledgeable about wilderness and taking care of the special places in our backyard. Through stewardship jobs and volunteerism, workforce development, education, partnerships and community engagement, we are working to build wilderness relevancy, connect more people with meaningful, transformational experiences on public lands, and increase equitable access to the outdoors.


SAWS has three primary goals:


  • Take care of wild public lands in our footprint; 

  • Provide transformational job opportunities in the outdoors that cultivate, educate, empower and create equitable career pathways for the next generation of conservation stewards; and

  • Increase public awareness about, equitable access to, and the relevancy of public lands and wilderness.


SAWS has recommitted to building a more diverse constituency so that the individuals we employ and serve resemble our country, and we work to dismantle racist systems that have historically excluded people of color from the conservation field. We have three priorities associated with this goal: having a diverse and inclusive board, creating an inclusive workforce and increasing the diversity of the people that are engaged by our programs, and working with and following the lead of organizations led by Black, Indigenous, and other people of color (BIPOC) to strategize and build equitable career paths and career development opportunities for BIPOC and historically excluded communities.

Our Values


At Southern Appalachian Wilderness Stewards (SAWS), we believe: 

Wilderness and other wild public lands have value, and we share responsibility for caring for those lands and for the ecological benefits they provide for current and future generations.

We can build the next generation of conservation stewards by providing jobs and meaningful, transformational experiences in the outdoors.

Safe, inclusive access to the outdoors is a basic right and access to meaningful and transformative outdoor places, experiences, and careers must be equitable.

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The wellbeing of communities in our footprint is important, and understanding and supporting community priorities and needs is integral to increasing the relevance of wild public lands and natural resource stewardship.

Sharing knowledge and offering skills-based training for employees and partners will help revitalize stewardship in our region and the country. 

The best way for SAWS to succeed is by building partnerships and shared capacity, working to understand and support mutual objectives.

We all share responsibility for creating equity and actively disrupting systems that are unjust, centering the needs and leadership of those most impacted.

As the board and staff of SAWS, we seek to create and foster an organization that:

Has a strong staff and board with diverse backgrounds, talents, and perspectives.


Includes and welcomes all people, creating space for everyone to feel safe, seen, heard, and valued.

Supports and complements the capacity of public land management agencies, working in partnership for the stewardship of public lands.

Provides meaningful employment opportunities in conservation with a living wage and opportunities for professional growth.

Develops and invests in employees’ individual skills through personal growth, leadership, and career development while building a strong team and SAWS community.


Provides work-life balance and support for employees at all phases of life.

Fosters a learning culture and an atmosphere of openness, transparency, and respect.

Seeks to listen to and understand the needs, interests, and values of partners and communities in our footprint, finding opportunities for mutual benefit.

Builds transformative partnerships and works in collaboration with others.

Embeds equity into our annual goal setting and creates checkpoints to hold ourselves accountable.

Learns and acts within our spheres of influence to acknowledge and address systemic racism and other barriers to safe, equitable access to the outdoors.

Justice, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at SAWS

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We are committed to working towards equity in the outdoors and in conservation including by celebrating diversity, fostering inclusivity, and recognizing and working to address past injustices and barriers to equitable access. 


This means:

  • Fostering a learning culture within SAWS by providing and requiring all employees time and resources to invest in reading and listening, attending training, and participating in discussions about justice, equity, diversity and inclusion.

  • Creating a shared understanding that JEDI work is not separate from the rest of what SAWS does: it is integral to all our work and programs.

  • Working together to identify actions we can take that reflect JEDI values and principles and contribute to meaningful change.

  • Reaching out to learn from, support and build relationships with BIPOC-led and other organizations who are leaders in building justice, equity, diversity and inclusion in conservation and the outdoors.

  • Learning and sharing a more truthful history of public lands and conservation, including recognizing historic, systemic and ongoing exclusion, erasure and harm to Black, Indigenous and people of color.

  • Acknowledging our own past failures and recognizing that we will make mistakes, but persisting in doing the necessary work to create change.

Our actions to date include:

Investing in and requiring JEDI training for all employees.

Creating ongoing small-group learning cohorts for employees.

Using our platforms to state that Black Lives Matter.

Formally recognizing Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples’ Day and giving regular and term employees leave on those days.

Adding to employee benefits and policies to increase inclusivity, safety, and equity by creating pay bands for seasonal and year-round employees, improving access to sick leave, and adding parental leave benefits for year-round employees supporting flexible work schedules and arrangements, providing flexibility for employees to access their right to vote, and recognizing and supporting employees’ mental health and wellbeing.

Creating and filling the role of Partnership and Community Outreach Coordinator as a new organizational leadership position.


Working to recognize and shift traditional systems of power and access, including in outreach and hiring, board recruitment, and program delivery.

Working with partners to raise and work to address disparities including in partner conversations about COVID-19 and access to the outdoors, responding to increases in visitation in ways that welcome new visitors and support positive outdoor experiences, commenting on public lands management and land management plans, wilderness education and outreach, and more.

Elevating the work of BIPOC-lead organizations and reaching out to find ways to support their work and build mutually beneficial relationships.


We will continue to share updates so that we can be held accountable. We invite feedback and participation and welcome your input: we can be reached at saws@wildernessstewards.org.

Land Acknowledgement


SAWS acknowledges and honors the history, culture and heritage of Tribal Nations and communities. The lands in each of the places we work are the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary homelands of Native people. Our offices in Asheville, North Carolina and Roanoke, Virginia stand on the traditional, ancestral, and contemporary homelands of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and the Tutelo people. We recognize the continuing experiences, rights, and values of Indigenous people, and have committed to telling a more truthful story of the lands we live and work on. We are committed to building stronger relationships so that we can listen to, learn from, and support Native interests in our landscape.

As we learn more from the Tribal Nations throughout our region, we will ask how best to acknowledge the history of the lands we work on and include Tribal perspectives and interests in our work. In the coming months, we will share updates that reflect what we have learned.