The Meaning of Wilderness

Radio Interviewer: “So, Douglas Wood–Author of Old Turtle–Welcome. Let me ask you a question. Reading your book, you seem to be an environmentalist; what we might call an environmental extremist. Out West here, we have a lot of land that’s been locked up in “wilderness areas” by federal government land-grabs. Can you tell me why these areas can’t be open to the people–maybe used as “multiple use wilderness,” instead of being locked up. What’s wrong with that?”

DW: “Well, thanks for having me. First, I’m not really very extreme about anything, except maybe my love of my family and my country. Get to know me, you’d probably figure that out.

“Second, the premise of your question is backwards. In our country, with our representative form of government, such protected lands are not “locked up.” Just the opposite. Parks and wilderness areas are preserved FOR the public, for the people, and for the other creatures that inhabit them. Not just for a few, not just for profit, and not just for a single use–by a single property owner or corporation. There are certain uses–like copper-sulfide mining–that because of their impact, basically preclude other uses and other values.

“Finally, we already have many ‘multiple use wilderness areas.’ Manhattan is a multiple use wilderness. So is Detroit, so is Pittsburgh, so’s L.A. The state I grew up in, Iowa, is an excellent example of multiple use wilderness; except that the multiple uses are primarily two–farms and feedlots–with almost zero percent of the gorgeous original prairie, some of the most beautiful land on all the Earth, remaining.

“The term Wilderness means something–something timeless and pure and worth preserving–something that is incompatible with other uses like open pit mining, drilling, logging, cattle grazing, interstate highways and population centers. It is not that these other uses are ‘bad’ per se, it is that we, as a country, have said that there are certain areas that, because of their extraordinary beauty or rarity or other intrinsic values, we will set aside for the people, set aside and preserve for future generations–our children and great grandchildren. Not ‘locked up,’ but kept forever ‘open’ for everyone.”

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