Wilderness At a Glance
I used to think that all the green spaces on a map were protected. I didn’t understand the differences between national forest and national park, wildlife refuge and wilderness. On the map, the green-shaded areas looked protected, and that seemed good enough to me.
Then I learned that hunting is allowed in national wildlife refuges. Clearcutting is permitted in national forests. The names of these designations don’t seem to match even the scant protections they offer.
Wilderness is the only label that lives up to its name. It protects naturally functioning ecosystems and gives nature priority over human comforts and conveniences. Extractive uses like logging and mining are not allowed, and no roads or structures are permitted, either. Wilderness areas are the last pure pockets of raw nature. They sustain themselves without human manipulation. People can visit but not live in wilderness.
Less than 2 percent of the United States outside of Alaska is protected as wilderness. The U.S. has more theme parks than wilderness areas, and east of the Mississippi, there are more acres of pavement than wilderness.
We need every scrap of wildlands left. And we need to make sure that existing wilderness areas like Cumberland are not dismantled and degraded by tours and development.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of wilderness, and there are currently several wilderness bills pending before Congress. The most promising one is in Tennessee, where a bipartisan bill would protect thousands of acres surrounding the Upper Bald River Gorge. The bill is championed by Republican Lamar Marshall, who believes that conservatives should care about conservation as much as their liberal counterparts.
Politicians on both sides of the aisle love wilderness, and in Georgia, we’ll need them to work together to protect Cumberland. New congressional leadership in Georgia promises new hope for protecting Wild Cumberland.