Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Wild Nature


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Photo © Wade Zimmerman/Arcaid/Corbis

Wild Nature?

In her new book "Rambunctious Garden" author and former Nature magazine correspondent Emma Marris argues that pristine wildness is a myth and that we live on a thoroughly domesticated planet whose management is up to us.
What do you think? Does wilderness still exist? Share your thoughts below.

Our Cool Green Science blog caught up with Marris to learn more about her provocative perspective. Read the full interview here.


Comments from the Community

Stephen Silver
Re: Emma Marris Calling the world a "garden" is meant to be complimentary. However the implication is that, like any other garden, it belongs to us to do with whatever we want. The problem is tht the "we" will inevitably turn out to be the monied interests who view th "garden" as a profitable resource. We must remember that the preservation of wilderness is only a small part of the environmentalist program, and can be viewed as emblematic of our deeper concerns. If these predatory forces are not vigorously opposed, whether in terms of wilderness protection or not, it is obvious what will become of this "garden."

Fortunately there still are some pristine woodlands available thanks to the work of organizations such as the nature conservancy. They may not be as abundant as they once were, but they are there. I like to hold on to one of my favorite quotes from the movie Avatar where Jake Sully prays to the Goddess of Pandora for help to save the planet. When he is told "The Great Mother does not take sides, she keeps the balance of life." I hold on to this truth for our planet that the Great Mother will always keep the balance of life where it should be even if we cannot.

I grew up on a farm in Eastern Pennsylvania and am now living in a rural area of Upstate South Carolina with my wife, Thelma. I've done a lot of hiking, hunting, bicycle riding, whitewater kayaking, camping, and freelance writing. One of the ways to protect nature is to use organic pesticides to control insect pests. Never use Seven Dust as the honey bees track it back to their hives and destroy their hives. If possible, spray ornamentals at night when the wind is calm. Lawns have to be sprayed in the daytime to avoid over-application of chemical being sprayed. Wilderness can exist by proper development planning. i.e. Don't put homes within three miles of a wild and scenic river. Remove unnecessary dams so we can have free-flowing rivers for kayaking and fishing. Forests should be protected from insect pests and only logged as needed and to have healthy tracts so there will be good wild animal habitat. Wolves and other dangerous wildlife should be in large forested areas far from population centers. Bigfoot has been spotted mostly in wild areas, but also near New York City. So be careful out there.

I have to say that Marris's proposals are not new to me and that I disagree with them and will continue to do so. I'm more of a deep ecologist. Human beings, their gardens and their pets are not the center of the planet even though civilization proliferates at a maddening rate. Remember it's the garden trade, namely importing ornamentals from Asia that has drove environmental managers to herbicide use. In northern Ohio where I live invasive reed grass (phragmites) has over-run all our marshes, destroying the floral diversity that was once present. This is not to say that dangerous chemicals should be sprayed in areas families frequent. It is however a sad affair to behold the invasive monotony northern Ohio has become. Because of an invasive Asian insect, the emerald ash borer, every single ash tree is dead or will be. This means that in some areas, a quarter of the trees are dead; ash was a major species. The ash borer is probably the worst exotic pest to hit since the chestnut blight fungus. Even in that case the chestnuts are still living; they just only reach 15 to 30 feet. Old-timers however remember that the chestnut was once the majestic canopy tree of Appalachia. As far as fauna goes, one just can't move them somewhere else where they might survive to paraphrase Marris. There is no somewhere else. We can't count on anyone else doing better with their natural backyard than we have with ours. Besides many animals don't tolerate the human presence very well. A fine example from recent TNC publications is the sage grouse. Same is true of the piping plover. The list goes on and on. There are few escape valves from the environmental jam mankind has gotten itself into.

I think whether or not pristine wilderness really exists is besides the point. What's important is that we value the nature that we have. I live in the city on a 40' x 100' lot, but I can still enjoy the sun on my back and the wind in the trees while I pull dandelions from my tiny lawn. I used to be on a planning committee for a Watershed Festival which was organized by several local environmental groups with the intention of promoting watershed awareness and appreciation of nature in the general public. We distributed an opinion survey at the Festival which asked people to rate the various displays they had seen. Although our highest rated "act" was a herpetologist who had brought several exotic snakes and frogs to the event, the committee did not invite him to return the following year because most of his animals were not native to our area. Sometimes the conservationists cannot see the forest for the trees. If it takes a giant python to motivate children to appreciate the nature in their own backyard, then that is a good thing!

Yes, wilderness exists. Water makes up 75% of our planet and abundant regions of this oceanic environment remain unexplored or little studied. Land masses come to mind to most people when wilderness is mentioned, and wilderness on land is becoming harder to find due to population growth or climatic changes. Gardens and parks can be designed to provide maximum habitat for local species. Even the tops of buildings in NYC are becoming more utilized for planting gardens. Large tracts of wilderness should be preserved permanently for ecosystem values and wildlife, e.g., the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Southeastern and eastern Arizona has numerous wilderness areas and I hope they remain for a long time to come.

Edwin Fields
Here, in the Crown of the Continent ecosystem ,by Glacier/ Waterton International Peace Park,Wilderness is no myth. It exists in large landscapes that provide for Grizzly Bears, Black Bears, Wolverines, Wolves, Mountain Lions, Elk, Moose, Deer,Bull Trout, Native Cut Throat Trout, Leopard Frogs, Bald Eagles, Swans; in short plants and animals who would not exist without large connected landscapes. Small places are necessary. Big places are necessary. The same sun and moon is in the sky.Life begets Life. I say support all of it.

Aquiles L Alarcon
Dear The Nature Conservancy. In Santiago de Chile, there is an open position for a "REGIONAL OPERATIONS MANAGER", I'll appreciate consider my background for this position. The salary is not essential for my, but it is important the goal of organization like yours and be part of this. I love wildlife in all its forms, would be a dream for me to work in an organization like this. I am applying to this position through Michael Page International in Santiago de Chile. please for your consideration. Greetings Aquiles L. Alarcon.

John B Sisk
I really like Ms. Marris' book. In this interview she makes some of the same powerful observations -- very valid observations that are overdue for thoughtful consideration by conservationists, scientists and practitioners. At the same time, however, I think she constructs a somewhat artificial strawman of the pure-untouched-wilderness in order to deconstruct it. My sense is that she is much more right than not, yet her strawman is not reflective of the complex realities of wilderness area protection as I understand and have experienced them. I live in Alaska, where there is big wilderness that can kill you and eat you and feed you and fill you with awe, love and wonder. Is it perfectly "untouched?" Of course not. Is it wild? You bet! Is protection of designated Alaska wilderness areas and parks a deliberate social activity? Yes, again. And, have Native American people been living in Alaska's wilderness for millennia? They sure have. In the lower 48 the situation is much different, but still not a simple proposition. For example, the Wilderness Act does not apply to "untouched" wilderness but rather to areas that are relatively unmodified. The result is a network of areas that are deliberately maintained in a condition that, compared to the surrounded lands, is relatively wild. Wilderness has come to mean different things to different people, and Marris does a wonderful job of elucidating some of the ironies, misconceptions and ecological limitations of wilderness areas as an overall conservation solution. In many cases they may indeed be understood as "wilder gardens" rather than an ideal pure state of some kind. And, it is crucially important that we tend to the entire garden, from the wilder parts to the urban neighborhoods to the farms and ranches to industrial areas and more. I want to thank Ms. Marris for a fine book and for sharing some clear, timely, important thinking in this interview. I also want to point out that her description of our national system of wilderness areas seems at times to be a bit simplistic. Regardless, we need to accept that we have turned the earth into our garden and we need to become much, much more responsible, realistic and creative gardeners. And we should pay a good deal more attention to the life of places that are anything but wild yet remain incredibly wonderful and valuable in so many ways. We need the whole garden earth and we need to step up to the challenge of whole earth stewardship. Thank you.

Tracy Z.
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