Reclaiming wilderness


It tells us who we are, and we lose it at our peril

Gila Wilderness with human dwellings.

When Dave Foreman heard that I was going to speak at the biennial Geography of Hope conference last year in Marin County, California, he made a request: “Try to get wolves and wilderness in.” Foreman, the cofounder of Earth First! and a leader of the rewilding movement, is one of the two most riveting environmental evangelists I’ve ever heard preach; he ends his talks by howling like a wolf. The howling I can interpret, but his request puzzled me a bit. The conference was billed as three days dedicated to the ideas of Aldo Leopold. How could you celebrate Leopold without wolves and wilderness?
At the conference, I found out. In session after session, before an audience at Toby’s Feed Barn in Point Reyes Station, speaker after speaker had nothing to say about either the wolf or the place it lives. Leopold’s “land ethic” and his ideas on sustainability and restoration drew all the attention. The great forester’s campaign leading to the 1924 designation of New Mexico’s Gila Wilderness, the first anywhere, and his seminal writing on wildness in A Sand County Almanac went missing. When wilderness finally did come up, it was by way of dismissal. Wilderness is an antiquated notion, one panelist said. We have a new paradigm, said another. J. Baird Callicott, one of academia’s leading wilderness deniers–or “wilderness deconstructionists,” as Foreman calls this breed–told us that wilderness is a flawed idea and an imperialistic enterprise. If Leopold were alive and here today, Callicott said, he would have very different ideas on wilderness.
Yes, and Jefferson, if only we could fetch him, would disown his Declaration of Independence, and Lincoln his Emancipation Proclamation. For years I had laughed off this kind of revisionism, but now, at a Leopold symposium in Marin County, one of the greenest spots in the nation, I realized that we are losing the wilderness idea.
Read more via Reclaiming Wilderness | Sierra Club.

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