Wilderness and Wildness

Bronwen Dickey, daughter of James Dickey (author of Deliverance), describes her father's view of wilderness and rivers.

I've shed blood in the Chattooga River, the result of incompetent kayaking. Wildness doesn't tolerate fools.

Link: Chattooga Conservancy, The Last Wild River.

My father didn't talk much about wilderness, it was "wildness" he was interested in. Wilderness, to him, was just an idea, a romantic falsification of nature rather than the untamed, untamable thing itself. Wildness was a place where man risked everything; it wasn't a theme park or a toy you played around with or a place you ventured into for thrills. It could kill you. The characters in Deliverance were prepared only for wilderness, and they found wildness. Wildness bites back.

"I think a river is the most beautiful thing in nature," my father wrote in one of his journals, right before the novel was published in 1970. "Any river is more beautiful than anything else I know." He was drawn to writers who felt similarly inspired by water, like Melville and Conrad. Heraclitus's philosophy of universal flux and his famous dictum, "you cannot step into the same river twice," particularly moved him. But there were few things that terrified my father as much as man's ever-growing intrusion into the natural world. "We're never going to be able to get out of the 'man world,'" he said in a documentary back in the '70s, "if we don't have any place to go to from the man world. That's why we need these rivers and streams and creeks and woods and mountains. You need to be in contact with nature as it was made by something else than men." As much as Deliverance was a story of survival, or, as so many define it, a story of "man against nature," it was a story about the commercial destruction of a rugged, primordial landscape and a part of the South that was slipping away, even back then.

Note: Here's a link to some scenes from the movie Deliverance, if you haven't seen it.

Photos of the Chattooga River:

www.mykesweblog.com/2008/12/beautiful-image-the-narrows-chattoogariver.html

www.mykesweblog.com/2005/08/bull_sluice_on_.html

National Parks in Peril

National Geographic Magazine describes how Paul Hoffman, appointed by the Bush administration, tried to redirect US National Parks to emphasize recreation instead of preservation. Apparently conservative does not mean conservation when applied to wilderness in the Bush administration.

Link: National Parks in Peril @ National Geographic Magazine.

The legislation establishing the National Park Service 90 years ago, the so-called Organic Act, stipulated that the purpose of parks and monuments—indeed, the agency’s core mission—"is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations." But over the years there has been much disagreement over which comes first, the resource or the visitor. Not only that, but at what point does resource impairment begin to result from a good time being had by all?

Five years ago the National Park System Advisory Board, a distinguished panel appointed by the Secretary of the Interior, issued a report describing how the Park Service, early on, had discovered that the best way to win public support for the parks was to make sure the visitors derived pleasure from them. However, managing for people (as in the suppression of forest fires) often resulted in bad news for resources (a buildup of forest debris fueling deadlier fires). "It is time," the board declared in Rethinking the National Parks for the 21st Century, "to re-examine the ‘enjoyment equals support’ equation and to encourage public support of resource protection at a higher level of understanding. In giving priority to visitor services, the Park Service has paid less attention to the resources it is obliged to protect for future generations."

For the most part career professionals in the Park Service found the report much to their liking. But that was not the reaction among political appointees in the Bush Administration. Though Park Service Director Fran Mainella initially supported the report, it later became evident that it was not her agenda, and before long the Department of the Interior, under Secretary Norton, was suggesting the opposite of what the board had concluded: Preservation was trumping recreation; the Clinton Administration had taken the fun out of national parks. Now the stage was set for a clash of values.

In the summer of 2005, Interior was obliged to make public—after it was leaked—a 195-page revision of the Park Service’s basic policy document, essentially altering the way parks were to be managed in the future. The rewrite was the work of Paul Hoffman, at the time Interior’s deputy assistant secretary for fish, wildlife, and parks, a former executive director of the Cody, Wyoming, chamber of commerce, and congressional aide to Dick Cheney in the 1980s. Among Hoffman’s most radical policy tweaks were calls to open to snowmobiles all national park roads used by motor vehicles in other seasons, as well as a relaxation of restrictions on personal watercraft at some national seashores and lakeshores and on noisy tourist flights over such parks as Great Smoky Mountains and Glacier.

Charging that these revisions would override 90 years of established laws and court rulings, more than a few park superintendents expressed alarm. "I hope the public understands that this is a threat to their heritage," J. T. Reynolds, superintendent at Death Valley National Park, told the Los Angeles Times. Bill Wade, for many years superintendent of Shenandoah National Park but now retired and speaking as chairman of the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, called the Hoffman document an "astonishing attempt to hijack" the nation’s parks "and convert them into vastly diminished areas where almost anything goes." And it came as no surprise that the rewrite paid scant attention to the importance of promoting science-based programs in the national parks.

What’s Wilderness Worth? Green Economics

Source: What’s Wilderness Worth? | Outside Online. by Bruce Barcott

With an anti-environmental backlash inflicting one defeat after another on conservationists, a band of maverick economists is riding to the rescue with a startling revelation about the true value of our natural resources: Follow the money, and you end up in a very green place.

For more than a century, the people who run America’s extractive industries—logging, mining, and fossil-fuel drilling—have offered one answer. Conservationists and the environmental movement have offered another. Developers have touted job creation and the connection between industrial exploitation and economic vitality. Environmentalists have grounded their appeals in ecological science and the value of wilderness to the human soul. Always at odds, locked in ideological opposition, the two sides, it seems, have long been speaking different languages.

Currently, with tens of millions of acres on the line and developers enjoying a stiff political tailwind blowing out of Washington, D.C., the mutual incomprehension has become nearly absolute. The environment reflects the red-state/blue-state divide and plays out in vitriolic debate.

Amid all the noise, both sides are failing to hear the whisper of a bold development that could break the deadlock and revolutionize sustainable environmental policy: the arrival of wilderness economics, a dollars-and-cents way to attach a fair and reliable estimate to the seemingly uncountable value of preserving wild spaces and pristine natural resources.

This new economic paradigm couldn’t arrive at a more crucial time. The failure of environmentalists to sell their agenda to voters has run headlong into an administration that’s put energy development at the top of its list and is making it easier than ever to siphon private resources from public land. While mainstream media have focused on hot spots like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, Bush administration officials have quietly opened millions of acres of wilderness-quality land in the lower 48 to developers. Much of the 58.5 million acres of roadless national forest preserved by the Clinton administration will soon lose its protection. In Wyoming, ranchers who’ve wisely tended their land for generations are watching energy companies ruin their soil and water in a natural-gas free-for-all. In Utah and Colorado, nearly 150,000 acres of wildland—including previously protected sections of Desolation Canyon, as well as spectacular tracts of Sagebrush Pillows and the Dolores River Canyon—have been leased for drilling in the past 14 months. Tens of thousands more will likely follow.

President George W. Bush and his supporters defend these actions in the name of energy security and jobs. But set against the West’s new economic reality—a long-term shift away from extractive industries and toward recreation, tourism, the service sector, and information technology—the aggressive drive to cut and drill without factoring in long-term effects on the value of public wildland isn’t just environmentally unfriendly; it’s economically unsound. Converting the natural wealth contained in the nation’s pristine forests, deserts, canyons, and mesas into a one-time hit of corporate profit is a swindle of the first order, one that should outrage anyone, Republican or Democrat, who favors combining sound business practices with smart environmental stewardship.

Fortunately, the new way of thinking, if embraced by both sides, could lead to an era of compromise, in which decisions about extraction and preservation are based on assessments of long-term value, and of how that value might or might not be sacrificed for short-term gains.

Wilderness economics may not be the last word in the conservation argument, but it’s taken on considerable weight, given the alacrity and scale with which the White House is rolling back wilderness protection. If the current wilderness land grab had an emblematic moment, it was the morning of November 24, 2003. I was on hand that day when the federal government—dramatically reversing long-standing precedent—took a chunk of protected land (acreage that the BLM itself had identified as having "wilderness characteristics," and that was part of the proposed 9.5-million-acre Red Rock Wilderness) and auctioned it off to oil and gas developers.

This is the new story of the West. Conservation is now as much about economics as it is about less tangible aspects like the solace of open space. And it’s not just about the West: These arguments can also play out in African wildlife habitats or Central American jungles. Wilderness is a commodity that no longer just tugs at the heartstrings. It’s become abundantly clear that it tugs at the purse strings, too.

via Alex Steffen  via Triple Pundit