Syllabus for the Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program

The Alderleaf Wilderness Certification Program trains students in ecological knowledge and wilderness skills through rigorous, hands-on, field-based education. The program prepares students to work in a variety of environmental fields in positions such as naturalists, outdoor educators, wilderness guides, and environmental field technicians. The nine-month program trains students in natural history, ecology, wildlife tracking, wilderness survival, ethnobotany, permaculture, and teaching / leadership skills. The course concludes with a naturalist evaluation to assess and certify each student’s level of skill and knowledge. The course is designed to stand alone as vocational training or fit into a multi-year academic degree.

MODULE 1: Naturalist Skills: The Plants, Animals, and Ecology of North America

It is important for the environmental professional to be able to identify and interpret the major living and non-living features of the natural environment within the region in which they operate. In this module of the course, students learn the basics of natural history, taxonomy, weather, geology, botany, and wildlife of North America.

On completion of this module you will:

  • Be able to identify common northwest flora and fauna
  • Understand the basics of geology, weather, ecology, astronomy, botany, taxonomy, natural history, and wildlife of North America
  • Be familiar with venomous animals, poisonous plants, and other wilderness hazards
  • Understand how to keep a naturalist field journal
  • Develop effective navigation and map reading skills

Module 2: Wilderness Survival: Primitive and Modern Survival Techniques

Wilderness survival skills are essential for persons working in the backcountry and can also save lives in natural disasters. This module of the program provides training in both traditional and modern survival techniques and includes a study of indigenous life-ways.

On completion of this module you will:

  • Understand survival priorities and hazards
  • Be able to construct both emergency and long-term shelters from natural materials
  • Know how to locate, transport, filter, and purify water from natural sources
  • Be able to create fire using several different primitive techniques
  • Become adept at creating a variety of primitive survival tools for hunting and gathering
  • Have a basic understanding of the indigenous cultures local to the Pacific Northwest

Module 3: Wildlife Tracking and Observation: Interpreting Tracks and Sign

Many types of wildlife are shy, elusive, and/or nocturnal. Understanding how to identify and interpret the tracks, trails, signs, and vocalization of animals is a valuable tool in wildlife research and monitoring, as well as wilderness guiding and education.

On completion of this module you will:

  • Be able to identify footprints of a wide variety of mammals, birds, and insects
  • Be able to interpret gait patterns and behaviors from track patterns and signs
  • Gain experience in trailing ungulates through varied terrain
  • Be able to interpret bird behaviors and vocalizations
  • Understand how to minimize disturbances and effectively observe wildlife
  • Learn the basics of using CyberTracker data collection software and equipment

Module 4: Ethnobotany: Edible, Medicinal, and Utilitarian Uses of Wild Plants

In this module students learn how to properly identify, gather, and prepare wild plants for meals, medicines, and tools. This module of the course also covers basic herbal medicine, permaculture, and forest stewardship.

On completion of this module you will:

  • Be able to identify common wild edible, medicinal, and utilitarian plants
  • Know how to prepare herbal medicines including tinctures, salves, and decoctions
  • Understand the three primary methods of basket construction
  • Understand the ethics of harvesting wild plants
  • Become familiar with wildcrafting and small scale organic gardening
  • Know the basics of permaculture, restoration, and forest stewardship

Module 5: Nature-Based Education: Teaching and Leadership

Environmental professionals need to plan, communicate, and manage groups and projects. This section of the course covers leadership and communication styles, lesson/trip planning, wilderness first aid, and project coordination.

On completion of this module you will:

  • Have enhanced communication skills for working with diverse groups
  • Understand curriculum planning and assessment
  • Understand the experiential education model
  • Understand indigenous forms of education
  • Have completed basic wilderness first aid training
  • Gain experience in coordinating an environmental research project

Required Resources:

  • National Audubon Society Field Guide to the Pacific Northwest (1998) Alden
  • Puget Sound Country (1995) Kruckeberg
  • The Kamana Naturalist Training Program (2001) Young
  • Mammal Tracks and Sign (2003) Elbroch
  • Bird Tracks and Sign (2001) Elbroch
  • Mammals of the Pacific Northwest (1998) Maser
  • Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast (1994) Pojar and MacKinnon
  • Discovering Wild Plants (1990) Schofield
  • Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West (1993) Moore
  • Plant Technology (1998) Turner
  • Wilderness Survival (2005) Elbroch
  • Primitive Technology (1999) Wescott
  • Primitive Technology II (2001) Wescott
  • Learning the Language of Birds (1997) Young (audio cassette)
  • Advanced Bird Language (1999) Young (audio cassette series)
  • Wilderness First Aid (2005) Backer


(360) 793-8709

wilderness survival school catalogRequest Information:
Receive a free copy of our brochure and Wilderness Certification Program Catalog:

Click here to load this Caspio Online Database.
We respect your privacy and never sell, trade, or share your information.

Visit the Course Calendar:

course calendar

Recent News at Alderleaf:

Alderleaf in the Media:

Alderleaf in the media

Find us on Facebook:

wilderness survival guideJoin our eNewsletter:
And receive a free copy of our survival mini-guide, Thriving in the Outdoors: The Six Keys to Wilderness Survival!

Learn more