Sunday, September 21, 2014

Happy 50-Year Birthday, Wilderness!

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, and one of the best celebrations, or obituaries, was just written in Orion Magazine by Jordan Fisher Smith.

In the article, he lays out the fundamental contradiction inherent in the Wilderness Act:  that wilderness lands should be managed so as to preserve their natural character, while at the same time remaining untrammeled and uncontrolled for human uses.  But at Smith points out, using examples from endangered species preserveration, carnivore reintroduction, and invasive species control, wilderness areas cannot remain "natural" in the face of omnipresent anthropogenic changes.

So managers are forced to make tough decisions to maintain the biotic integrity of the land at the price of intervening in the land where "man is a visitor, and does not remain", or allowing massive changes to snowball out of control while sitting on their hands.  The real choices are hard enough, but the temptation to meddle is even tougher.

I very much appreciate the comment of T. R. Shankar Raman

If the idea of leaving wilderness alone is outdated, so is the idea that there is some hard boundary between the wilderness and the rest of the world ‘outside’. To use this idea to justify highly intrusive gardening of wilderness reserves distracts from a more vital need of fostering positive change in human land use and behaviour outside. It is more crucial to buffer harmful impacts to wilderness areas by greatly expanding the space for conservation outward into surrounding countryside and city. That, too, can ease the disturbance footprint, allowing wilderness areas to recover along their own trajectory with less and less intervention, until land and life are free, which ultimately, is what ‘wild’ really means. And it is in bringing down that boundary, looking outward from the wilderness, that we will perhaps find the way to rewild ourselves.

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