What exactly is wilderness? What are we fighting for on Cumberland Island and other wild places across the country? David Cole, Doug Scott, Ed Zahniser, Roger Kaye, George Nickas, and Kevin Proescholdt offer a powerful answer in the December 2017 issue of Wilderness Guardian published by Wilderness Watch, a national organization dedicated to protecting the ecological integrity and wilderness character of the U.S. Wilderness system. An excerpt appears below:
Wilderness character is fundamentally about wildness. It should be defined as the degree to which wilderness is free from deliberate human modification, control, and manipulation of a character and scope that hampers the free play of natural ecological processes.
Protecting wilderness character is about ensuring that wilderness remains untrammeled and undeveloped, without human occupation or domination. We do so by not allowing developments or manipulating wilderness ecosystems to any significant degree.
Manipulations where the intent is more to remove evidence of humans than to intervene in ecological processes, such as restoration of an impacted campsite, are not a concern. Actions that seek to modify wilderness ecosystems significantly, such as a program of herbicide spraying or prescribed fire, are much harder to justify because they degrade wilderness character.
We are not alone in believing that wildness is the central quality of wilderness character. In 1953, Howard Zahniser wrote, “We must remember always that the essential quality of the wilderness is its wildness.” In that same paragraph, Zahniser stated: “we must not only protect the wilderness from commercial exploitation. We must also see that we do not ourselves destroy its wilderness character in our own management programs.”
More recently, Jack Turner wrote that “if we fail to incorporate wildness into what we mean by wilderness we simply define wilderness out of existence.”
Doug Scott, in an article on wilderness character and the Wilderness Act, states that it is the word untrammeled that defines “the wilderness character (that) it is the duty of conservationists and land managers to protect,” a perspective repeated by Proescholdt. Howard Zahniser’s son, Ed, concluded an article on wilderness character with the statement “The wilderness character of designated wilderness is its wildness.
In 1963, Howard Zahniser discussed the stewardship implications of protecting wildness in an editorial that took issue with the Department of Interior’s Leopold Report on wildlife management in national parks. The report recommended that national parks be actively managed to restore their condition at the time they were first visited by white men, to present “a vignette of primitive America.” Zahniser wrote that “… the board’s report poses a serious threat to the wilderness within the national park system and indeed the wilderness concept itself.” It “… is certainly in contrast with the wilderness philosophy of protecting areas at their boundaries and trying to let natural forces operate within the wilderness untrammeled by man.” He concluded the editorial:
“With regard to areas of wilderness, we should be guardians not gardeners.”
Read the entire article at wildernesswatch.org.