FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Size Matters: Bigger is better for Wilderness in America

by

Dana in Selway-Bitteroot

Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness: Photo by Dana Johnson

When it comes to wilderness, bigger is better.

From a human perspective, it is difficult to experience wilderness values such as awe, oneness with nature, solitude and challenge in isolated natural areas hemmed in by roads or noisy machines. The authors of the Wilderness Act rightly understood that if folks accepted postage-stamp sized natural areas as “wilderness”, then our perception of wilderness would lose its unique distinction. And as the wilderness idea is cheapened, so too, is wilderness on the ground.

Conservation biologists teach us that large, wild areas with connectivity to other wildlands protect native species populations from inbreeding, random loss of adaptive genetic traits (common in small isolated populations), disease, and environmental events such as wildfire, flood or prolonged drought. Species with specific habitat needs such as old growth forest or undisturbed sagebrush steppe are particularly vulnerable to problems associated with small isolated habitats. So are large carnivores, which naturally occur in much lower densities than prey species, and thus are spread thinly across large areas. Many of these vulnerable creatures are called “wilderness dependent species” and small isolated wildland tracts do not promote their survival.

As human population growth continues to explode, wildlands are increasingly impacted by adjacent human activities. Logging, mining, road building, poaching, urban sprawl, off road vehicles, livestock grazing, fences, power corridors, dams and diversions and more all serve to isolate wilderness areas. When wilderness boundaries are amoeba-shaped with “cherry-stemmed’ exclusions, we create lots of edge compared with more secure interior habitat. Along the edges are where many destructive human activities occur. So not only is bigger better, but so are areas with holistic boundaries that minimize edge.

Unfortunately, many conservation organizations are beholden to foundations that demand “collaboration” with traditional wilderness opponents. These collaborations usually produce compromised “wilderness” proposals that exclude most potential conflict areas in order to mollify the opposition. Resulting wilderness units are small, isolated and oddly-shaped, laden with boundary intrusions and non-wilderness corridors that create much edge and minimal secure interior habitat.

Of course, our political system is based upon compromise, and compromise works when both sides have legitimate concerns and common goals. When it comes to wilderness, though, remember that nowadays each wilderness debate begins with an already greatly compromised remnant wildland. So further compromise creates the political illusion of “win/win”, but on the ground the land and the wildlife usually lose.

So, bigger is better. In North America, healthy populations of grizzly bear, wolverine, lynx and many other species thrive only where big wilderness is a dominant landscape feature. Healthy watersheds thrive only where entire watersheds are protected. And dynamic natural vegetation patterns can be maintained only in large protected landscapes. For example, maintaining natural wildfire patterns is incompatible with small nature preserves near suburbs or commercial timber stands.

Protecting and maintaining real wilderness won’t get easier. But unless conservation organizations develop a better understanding of what real wilderness is and the importance of size, connectivity and wholeness, it is unlikely that the very concept of wilderness will survive for many more generations. And I mean generations of four-leggeds and all members of the biotic community, in addition to the upright two-legged great apes that we call “human”.

Howie Wolke is a wilderness guide/outfitter based in Montana’s Paradise Valley and was recently president of Wilderness Watch.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
April 28, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Michael J. Sainato
Trump Scales Back Antiquities Act, Which Helped to Create National Parks
Stu Harrison
Under Duterte, Filipino Youth Struggle for Real Change
David Penner
When Patient Rights Do Not Exist
Martin Billheimer
Balm for Goat’s Milk
Stephen Martin
Spooky Cookies and Algorithmic Steps Dystopian
Michael Doliner
Thank You Note
Charles R. Larson
Review: Gregor Hens’ “Nicotine”
April 27, 2017
Darlene Dubuisson – Mark Schuller
“You Live Under Fear”: 50,000 Haitian People at Risk of Deportation
Karl Grossman
The Crash of Cassini and the Nuclearization of Space
Robert Hunziker
Venezuela Ablaze
John W. Whitehead
Trump’s America is a Constitution-Free Zone
Ron Jacobs
One Hundred Years That Shook the World
Judith Deutsch
Convenient Untruths About “Human Nature:” Can People Deal with Climate Change and Nuclear Weapons?
Don Fitz
Is Pope Francis the World’s Most Powerful Advocate for Climate Stability?
Thomas Mountain
Africa’s War Lord Queen: The Bloodstained Career of Liberia’s Eleanor Sirleaf Johnson
Binoy Kampmark
Short Choices: the French Presidential Elections
Paul C. Bermanzohn
Monetizing My Mouth
Michael Barker
Of Union Dreams and Nightmares: Cesar Chavez and Why Funding Matters
Elier Ramirez Cañedo
“Let Venezuela give me a way of serving her, she has in me a son.”
Paul Mobbs
Cellphones, WIFI and Cancer: Will Trump’s Budget Cuts Kill ‘Electrosmog’ Research?
Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee
The Closing of Rikers: a Survival Strategy of the Carceral State
April 26, 2017
Richard Moser
Empire Abroad, Empire At Home
Stan Cox
For Climate Justice, It’s the 33 Percent Who’ll Have to Pick Up the Tab
Paul Craig Roberts
The Looting Machine Called Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
The Dilemma for Intelligence Agencies
Christy Rodgers
Remaining Animal
Joseph Natoli
Facts, Opinions, Tweets, Words
Mel Gurtov
No Exit? The NY Times and North Korea
Alexandra Isfahani-Hammond
Women on the Move: Can Three Women and a Truck Quell the Tide of Sexual Violence and Domestic Abuse?
Michael J. Sainato
Trump’s Wikileaks Flip-Flop
Manuel E. Yepe
North Korea’s Antidote to the US
Kim C. Domenico
‘Courting Failure:’ the Key to Resistance is Ending Animacide
Barbara Nimri Aziz
The Legacy of Lynne Stewart, the People’s Lawyer
Andrew Stewart
The People vs. Bernie Sanders
Daniel Warner
“Vive La France, Vive La République” vs. “God Bless America”
April 25, 2017
Russell Mokhiber
It’s Impossible to Support Single-Payer and Defend Obamacare
Nozomi Hayase
Prosecution of Assange is Persecution of Free Speech
Robert Fisk
The Madder Trump Gets, the More Seriously the World Takes Him
Giles Longley-Cook
Trump the Gardener
Bill Quigley
Major Challenges of New Orleans Charter Schools Exposed at NAACP Hearing
Jack Random
Little Fingers and Big Egos
Stanley L. Cohen
Dissent on the Lower East Side: the Post-Political Condition
Stephen Cooper
Conscientious Justice-Loving Alabamians, Speak Up!
Michael J. Sainato
Did the NRA Play a Role in the Forcing the Resignation of Surgeon General?
David Swanson
The F-35 and the Incinerating Ski Slope
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail