Through The Looking Glass: What Value Will We See In Wilderness In 2064?

President Lyndon Johnson signed The Wilderness Act into existence in 1964. How will we view the act in 2064?

Editor's note: Areas set aside under The Wilderness Act draw frequent debate today over what uses are acceptable within officially designated wilderness. But how will we view wilderness in 2064, when The Wilderness Act notches its 100th birthday? That topic recently was explored by Jeff Rose and Dan Dustin for Park Science, a research and resource management bulletin of the U.S. National Park Service that reports the implications of recent and ongoing natural and social science and related cultural research for park planning, management, and policy. Mr. Rose recently received his PhD from the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. His research employs political ecology to examine public space and nature-society relations under neoliberalism. Dan Dustin is chair of the Department of Parks, Recreation, and Tourism at the University of Utah, Salt Lake City. The two granted Traveler permission to reprint their essay here.

Through The Looking Glass: What Value Will We See In Wilderness In 2064?

THIS QUESTION IS INCREASINGLY RELEVANT to people around the world as we enter the 21st century and look forward to the 100th anniversary of the Wilderness Act. Domestic and international demographic projections portend a future filled with more people making more demands on Earth’s limited store of nonrenewable resources, a problem exacerbated by climate change (Dietz et al. 2003). The assumption that wilderness will always remain secure for its intended purposes rests on democratic processes and the will of the American people.

The National Park Service (NPS), the U.S. Forest Service (FS), the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) are entrusted with the stewardship of our nation’s wilderness. One of their primary charges is to preserve wilderness’s “biophysical, experiential, and symbolic ideals” (Landres 2004, p. 9). Protecting wilderness for its multiple purposes, including biodiversity and recreation, is no simple task. Nevertheless, among these purposes the job of the National Park Service is to ensure that national park wilderness forever retains the relatively untouched character of which Thoreau spoke, while also serving as the “geography of hope” that Stegner (1992) imagined it to be.

The National Park Service and the other bureaus are obliged to ensure that the values of wilderness are upheld and that there will always be recreational, scenic, scientific, educational, conservation, cultural, and historical uses of wilderness as codified in the Wilderness Act. However, there is also a philosophical, spiritual, and political base upon which to guarantee the existence of wilderness as a reflection of our national conscience. As Roderick Nash (1967) teaches us in Wilderness and the American Mind, wilderness is socially constructed. Wilderness is our psychological response to untrammeled nature as much as it is untrammeled nature itself. It is a decidedly American creation infused with values that many Americans hold dear: a desire for freedom, privacy, solitude, independence, and self-reliance. Wilderness, in this sense, serves as a mirror unto ourselves. It reflects who we were, who we are, and who we aspire to become. But as the United States transforms into an increasingly urban, sedentary, and technologically dependent society, and as many of our children come to prefer the indoors over the outdoors (Louv 2008a; Pergams and Zaradic 2006, 2008; Zaradic 2008), who is to say wilderness will retain the same meanings, the same significance in 2064, as it does today?

Wilderness is our psychological response to untrammeled nature as much as it is untrammeled nature itself. It is a decidedly American creation infused with values that many Americans hold dear: a desire for freedom, privacy, solitude, independence, and self-reliance.

As the planet becomes more congested, as space for human habitation becomes scarcer, and as the appetite for resources intensifies, those physical places we call wilderness will become more and more enticing for their natural resources—be they oil, timber, coal, natural gas, uranium, copper, or other precious metals. Paradoxically, wilderness will also become more valuable as a scientific and ecological laboratory, as the best “baseline” against which to measure the advance of civilization. Despite claims that Earth has now entered the “anthropocene,” a geological epoch characterized by human impact (Crutzen and Stoermer 2000), wilderness will likely remain the most unaffected of any natural areas in the United States, serving as an important classroom for ecological understanding.

From a broader perspective, wilderness will also be a test tube, a type of philosophical and material experiment in human restraint. Wilderness will likely be valued more as a wellspring, the headwaters from which pure water flows to quench the thirst of an increasingly parched country—especially west of the 100th meridian. But such a practical appraisal of the scientific value of wilderness leaves something to be desired, as there is much that escapes the caliper’s claw. Safeguarding wilderness will yield important health benefits to help sustain our species along with several furry, feathery, and flowery others. In this regard, there should be more to us, our sensibilities, our dreams, our spirituality, and to what it means to grow and develop as ethical human beings that manifests itself in our relationship with wilderness.

This brings us back to Nash’s (1967) claim that wilderness is more than a space or a place; it is a psychological state of mind. We see in wilderness what we will. We infuse it with our own meanings, and these meanings may change over time. Historically, the existence of wilderness symbolized our civilization’s capacity to exercise a modicum of restraint in its otherwise relentless march forward in the name of progress. In a spatial sense, wilderness has been a rare exception to the rule, a geographic concession to modesty doled out by a civilization rich in developmental and commercial hubris. It has been a gesture of humility, not unlike a Sunday morning offering following a week of considerable profitability. When it comes to the future of wilderness in the United States, one has to wonder what new concessions, what new gestures, what new offerings we will feel compelled to make in 2064.

Whatever we value in wilderness in 2064, it will not be the result of something that is thrust upon us from the outside—be it crowding, dwindling natural resources, climate change, or biodiversity loss. Rather our values of wilderness will be something we create from within. Wilderness will continue to mean what we want it to mean. Perhaps we will see wilderness much the same way as we envisioned it in 1964. But it is much more likely that our view of wilderness will change with evolving cultures, politics, and social norms. Wilderness in 2064 may well be a function of a highly urbanized, sedentary, technologically transfixed, stay-inside citizenry that embraces fundamentally different core values, a citizenry that is further disengaged from an intimate relationship with the natural world. Should such a future come to pass, then, as Stegner feared, something will have gone out of us as a people. A society increasingly detached from its biological moorings is in danger of thinking it no longer needs nature, much less wilderness. In the end, such a society risks making the mistake of assuming it controls nature and that nature plays only a supporting role in the human drama.

As poets, philosophers, and wilderness visionaries have trumpeted throughout our nation’s history, and as science now echoes as well, we humans are part of nature, after all, and our well-being ulti­mately depends on the welfare of the larger living and nonliving world around us. Ecology teaches us that wilderness—that intricately formed, wonderfully configured landscape of unfettered magnificence—is one of the most telling expressions of what nature and humankind look like when both are in robust health. While the nonhuman world might be healthy without human interference, a healthy society is a constant struggle that requires active engagement. A healthy ecosystem, one that includes both human and nonhuman systems working together, needs active and thoughtful management. The National Park Service is at the forefront of this vitally important work of integrating people into the wild nature that surrounds us. Louv (2008b) calls this “sacred work.” Indeed it is.

Comments

" But as the United States transforms into an increasingly urban, sedentary, and technologically dependent society . . ."

"As the planet becomes more congested, as space for human habitation becomes scarcer, and as the appetite for resources intensifies, those physical places we call wilderness will become more and more enticing for their natural resources—be they oil, timber, coal, natural gas, uranium, copper, or other precious metals."

This also means that America is being subordinated to globalization. The scene described above can be ascribed to any nation on the planet: all value transformed into homogenous commidities, increasingly governing all modes of transaction and exchange. The more we lose our wilderness, the more we lose what is distinctly American. If there is a case for American exceptionalism, wilderness preservation might be one of them. Maybe it's time for an interdisicplinary minor in Roosevelt Studies!

Visit Wilderness Conservation's Home: The Murie Center, and The Wilderness Act,
Grand Teton NP; former place of Olaus and Marty Murie & Family
http://www.muriecenter.org/what-we-do/2012-programs-and-events/

To paraphrase Rod Nash, the environmental historian, the creation of wilderness is a gesture of planetary modesty, a recognition that we are not the only passengers on this spaceship we call Earth.

Rick

We really must take our children and our younger family members with us when we visit the parks. They will be the ones that will decide what happens to these places in the future. If they don't learn to love them,who will be left to protect them??

Dick G: I agree completely. My mid-twentys son thanked me profusely for passing on the love of wild things and adventure while on an extended backpack trip in remote Grand Canyon. Enjoys the stock assisted trips also!

Justinh, so what has gotten us to this point? The Parks are not big enough for everyone to just hide out there. Bigger issues to be considered?

Hopefully, by 2064 we'll see cyclists in wilderness.

Hey Teddy,

I'm not sure I understand your question. What do you mean by hiding out in the parks?

Dr. Dustin,
What are the chances in the near future of seeing more public lands appropriated for wilderness protection? Also, do you feel that this clear distinction of what is wilderness and what isn't has failed to teach us how to live within our environment. In other words, does it perpetuate the concept of 'it's okay to live in isolation from our environment as long as we have these areas of wilderness where everything's untouched?'
Thanks,
Kurt H.

Sometimes it's just a title, and perhaps too many people put too much into a mere title.

I remember hiking in Yellowstone. In certain parts, the only real thing I saw that told me that man had ever been there (save the other people I saw hiking of fishing) were the maintained trails and the signs, including tree markers. It was about as pure a "wilderness" experience as I could have hoped for. It's my understanding that even without a wilderness designation, NPS manages most of Yellowstone as if it were designated wilderness.

I've also hiked in "designated wilderness" where I've come across dams, footbridges, chainsaws, or other clear signs of people. I remember a trail where the trees blocking the path were clearly cut with chainsaws.

I believe "wilderness" has more to do with what people do rather than some abstract idea of what it's supposed to mean. Much as we get hung up over park designations (is Arches NP any different from when it was a "national monument"?) we can get hung up over what "wilderness" means.

You bring up some really interesting points and questions in this article. I agree that the National Park Service is "vitally" important to help maintain our wilderness.
When I think of nature and wilderness I agreed with the first part when it said, "...a desire for freedom, privacy, solitude, independence, and
self-reliance. Wilderness, in this sense, serves as a mirror unto
ourselves." But I also found it very interesting, and probably right, that 'we' look at nature as 'self-restraint'. I had never looked at it that way but it makes sense that by having this land put to the side, in a more and more industrial society, we as people are trying to see if we can hold back and still maintain what is 'sacred'.

As some one once said about the improtance of Wilderness "...they aren't making any more of it..." Chris S. makes a good point with his last line and the question really is can we, as a people, show the restraint necessary to maintain what is "sacred". Or will it (wilderness) die the death of a thousand cuts. They aren't making any more of it.

I love the the idea that the wilderness is not only a physical place on the crowded, human-developed Earth that brings us back to a primitive way of life, but the wilderness is a part of our souls. The term "wilderness" is not a closed term, but rather an ambiguous term that means something different for everyone else.
For me, the wilderness is a raw place of innocence and truth and, in a similar way, the wilderness is the part of my soul that is raw, innocent, and it is the real, undeveloped part of me. To the people sitting around me, the wilderness means something completely different. 52 years from now, the wilderness may be a different part of my soul and may mean something different for me, but it is still something I will value heavily as it seems to be for a lot of people, once they really look "through the looking glass."

I feel that nature will continue to take backseat to industry. Little by little it will be depleted until it is too late. Room for shopping malls will be made, forests clearcut for wood, oil will be extracted from Wetlands... It is already happening at an alarming rate. Unless the few continue to fight for nature,it will become a thing of fantasy told to us while we dwell in its ghost.

I really enjoyed reading this article. It is sad that our natural park areas and wilderness areas are dwindling but its even sadder is how little most people care. I would love for everyone to work to save nature but I think that may be harder than it should be. Even if more people knew what was really happening im not sure if they would want to do anything. I wonder what its really going to take before people understand how important wilderness really is to us. Cause if we don't where will we even get water?

I think that the need to continue to protect wilderness is extremly important. I feel that the move to start protecting wilderness has already begun and will continue to grow as more people realize the importance of wilderness and nature. I hope that parents start to try to teach the importance of the outdoors to their children, and when possible do teach others the importance you feel for the outdoors and wilderness yourself.

I agree that wilderness is what we make of it. But I also believe that we must teach the future generations of the importance of wilderness for it to be preserved for many years to come. However, in many years the meaning of wilderness may change as well. AL

The way I see it, wilderness is meant to be preserved for the sake of wilderness itself, not for the enjoyment of people. That many of us happen to enjoy wilderness is merely a happy accident. The Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) has been introduced, and has failed, eight times over the years. The sticking points have been non-negotiable to the point of preventing compromise. Just how far can the land be compromised before it no longer qualifies as wilderness? The 300,000 acres of wilderness that would be created would be substandard, with motorized trails running right through the middle of it. And the 500,000 acres surrounding it will be overrun with motorized trails. The resulting nonwilderness will degrade the very essence of the Wilderness Act, not to mention set a precedent for the management of other wilderness areas. How is wildlife expected to hunt prey, protect themselves from becoming prey, find a mate, etc., if they can't hear over the din of ATVs? Wilderness needs to protected for its own sake and on its own terms, not on anthropocentric terms. This will become more and more important in future years as the human population grows and exerts ever more pressure on wilderness, which is why it is so important to protect wilderness now, while we still can.

Brad M:
I really enjoyed reading this article. It is sad that our natural park areas and wilderness areas are dwindling but its even sadder is how little most people care. I would love for everyone to work to save nature but I think that may be harder than it should be. Even if more people knew what was really happening im not sure if they would want to do anything. I wonder what its really going to take before people understand how important wilderness really is to us. Cause if we don't where will we even get water?
I'm trying to decipher exactly what you mean by the last sentence. Municipal water comes from several sources - mostly watersheds and underground aquifers. While I suppose a lot of water here in California comes from places that either are designated wilderness or might be places that would be good candidates for wilderness designations, that's not the case in most of this country. For instance, even in the San Francisco Bay Area, Marin County gets most of its water from local sources. It's rainwater in local watersheds that fills up local reservoirs. The land around them is mostly farmland now, and is frankly far removed from anything that could be considered "wilderness" in even a figurative sense.

Ellen H:
The way I see it, wilderness is meant to be preserved for the sake of wilderness itself, not for the enjoyment of people. That many of us happen to enjoy wilderness is merely a happy accident. The Central Idaho Economic Development and Recreation Act (CIEDRA) has been introduced, and has failed, eight times over the years. The sticking points have been non-negotiable to the point of preventing compromise. Just how far can the land be compromised before it no longer qualifies as wilderness? The 300,000 acres of wilderness that would be created would be substandard, with motorized trails running right through the middle of it. And the 500,000 acres surrounding it will be overrun with motorized trails. The resulting nonwilderness will degrade the very essence of the Wilderness Act, not to mention set a precedent for the management of other wilderness areas.
The precedent for all sorts of things is already there. It's not as if someone just came up with the idea of exceptions.

For instance, there's the Dusy-Ershim Off-Road Trail on Forest Service land. It actually splits the boundaries of the John Muir Wilderness and the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness areas.

http://jeep.off-road.com/jeep/trails/the-dusyershim-trail-13526.html

You think there's compromise? Here's the California Wilderness Act of 1984:

http://www.nps.gov/legal/parklaws/1/laws1-volume1-appendix.pdf

It's loaded with exceptions. In certain wilderness areas, the Forest Service is allowed to use motorized maintenance vehicles on existing fire roads. Certain areas areas were allowed to keep non-wilderness recreational opportunities. Others were allowed to maintain livestock grazing. Existing or previously proposed hydroelectric dams were allowed to remain and their operators were allowed to use motorized transportation for maintenance activities. All throughout the Sierra Nevada, there are natural and manmade lakes that were simply kept out of the wilderness boundaries. We're talking power boats, fully developed lodges, and developed campgrounds that that pre-date the wilderness designations. For example, here's a map of Convict Lake, which is right in the middle of the John Muir Wilderness. There was a Nature Valley granola bar commercial that featured it. It made it sound like it was in the middle of nowhere, but it was filmed at the Convict Lake Resort.

http://www.fishsniffer.com/maps/convict.html

Even in fully designated wilderness that isn't in NPS control, it's legal to hunt or go shooting out in the middle of the woods. Now the sound of gunshots isn't exactly what I'd think of as "wilderness characteristics", but it's all perfectly legal according to the law.

This article holds great importance for our society. I have wondered about many of the issues that were addressed above as I've worried about the future of our wilderness and even our desire to enjoy it. Above where it is mentioned that many of our children now prefer indoors over the outdoors, I have noticed this truth becoming more and more apparent. With the increases in technology in our society as a use for entertainment, people are forgetting not only the joys of exploring the natural world, but even the importance of personal conversation. My hope is that the world will soon revert to the simple pleasures of life and remember the beauty and peace that the natural earth has to offer us.

-CS

CS,
It's going to take effort to move folks away from their technology in order to make the change back to the simple pleasures in life. Remember, the vitual world is a lot easier to deal with. You don't have to exert yourself, sweat, get short of breath, get blisters, get frost bite or get covered in mosquito bites. In the virtual world, you can hike the Grand Canyon without leaving the comfort of your sofa. The challenge is getting people to move away from that comfort zone and realize that the rewards of the hike, ski, raft, pack trip into wilderness, in reality, are so much greater that in the virtual world. I'm afraid that if we as a society are not able to get people to make that connection, then wilderness, wild/natural systems will have no meaning and no value to future generations. So, take your kids, grand kids, friends kids, anybodies kids on some wilderness adventures. It will take personal involvement it keep wilderness and nature as something more than a thing we (people) control and simply serves, as Jeff Rose and Dan Dusten fear, "...a supporting role in the human drama."

This scares me a little bit. I agree that everyone infuses their own meanings and ideals into wilderness, but it is all so different. I imagine a world where everyone is fighting over open land trying to capitalize off of it. I hope it does not come to that, but I fear it will.

I'm with ya, ypw. That's the beauty of the Wilderness Act, that it was written with so much ambiguity to make it elastic enough to stretch over and mold around exception after exception. Stretch it too hard and too fast though, and just like silly putty, it will break.

Well - I'm not even sure it's all that wrong to put in all these exceptions. It's often highly controversial to assign wilderness designations because there are many people who will lose out on their previous uses. There are the business owners who would be told - well tough luck - you gotta leave. Without these exceptions, it could be impossible to designate certain areas as wilderness because there would be even more political opposition.

There's also some practical considerations. If a water district has already claimed a lake or built a dam, there is no way that Congress is going to say - well it's wilderness now and we'll just tear it down and leave you to find another place to impound your water. It would get stuck in the courts where they'd probably rule that the water rights are senior to the wilderness designation and can't be overturned. That's why there are so many wilderness designations where there's a dam here or an off-road trail there. Without the compromise, the alternative is that wilderness doesn't get designated at all or it correctly gets overturned by the courts.

"As the planet becomes more congested, as space for human habitation
becomes scarcer, and as the appetite for resources intensifies, those
physical places we call wilderness will become more and more enticing
for their natural resources—be they oil, timber, coal, natural gas,
uranium, copper, or other precious metals."
Two ideas regarding this that id like to get your opinion on.
First, what's your opinion on having every large city/state (New York etc.) having a greenhouse or solar panels on top of every building in the downtown area? How much do you think that would help with the humanity needing space vs nature conflict?
Also i feel NASA needs a much larger budget because having another planet for humanity to live on would definitely help and if NASA had had a proper budget since its creation we would be so much farther technology wise then we are now.

Nero-- Choices (lyrics)
"For the first time in history
Our planet is threatened by humans and our behavior
To such an extent that the climate
The habitat, and evolution itself may change forever

We're faced with choices
Choices that will affect all of our lives
The lives of our offspring and those to come."

"Ecology teaches us that wilderness—that intricately formed, wonderfully
configured landscape of unfettered magnificence—is one of the most
telling expressions of what nature and humankind look like when both are
in robust health."
What a great article. It definitely brings in to question how we shape our values about "wilderness" as we move through such a consumer-driven era of history.

I agree, wilderss is state of mind. All about that./
Were facing huge problems with our wildernesses with an increase in poplulation.
But i must ask, as a reuglar citizen, what can we do???

I understand what this article is conveying. I believe that looking at how society is trending today, people will be more and more enveloped in urban life with technological access 24/7. I think the extraction of resources from the wilderness will be inevetable in the future. But looking at the growing concern and social aspect of it all, this is the first time in human history where we have been seriously looking at the IMPACT we have on nature. So in the long run, i believe that there is an undying concern of the wilderness that people have. Our national parks will thrive, but dwindle, however, gain in value. Hopefully in 2064, people will still vacation in Yellowstone Park---Hopefully not virtual yellostone! Visit Yellostone park with your family in your living room!! Pet the virtual bears, you only get 3 lives! you see where im getting at?

I am pretty sure that the wilderness makes me to be healthy either psychological and physical way. And I do not want to expect when the wilderness is disappeared. That means I cannot go like hiking and fishing... right? That will be terrible. I wonder how can I try to preserve the wilderness. I mean as a student, not a professional.