This is what Ansel Adams had to say in a Playboy interview (1983) to the question “What is the most critical fight now (regarding conservation and the environment)?”
“To save the entire environment: wilderness protection, proper use of parks, breakdown of Federal operation of the parks in favor of private interests, acquiring new park and wilderness land, unrestrained oil drilling and mining on land and offshore, etc. First on the list now is that all the wilderness areas must be protected…
Only two and a half percent of the land in this country is protected. Not only are we being fought in trying to extend that two and a half percent to include other important or fragile areas but we are having to fight to protect that small two and a half percent.“
Here is where we stand 25 years later.
The U.S. has 2.3 billion acres of land. 110 million acres have wilderness status, which is the highest form of protection. That’s 4.8 % of the total land mass.
Let’s put that into perspective. Just over 6 % of the total land mass are occupied by humans, meaning urban and rural developments. About 350 million acres are planted for crop, of which only 3 million acres are used to produce all the vegetables in the States. Of those 350 million acres, 80 million acres are used for feeder corn and another 75 million acres of soybeans (95 percent of which are consumed by livestock). These two crops affect more of the land area of the U.S. than all the urbanization, rural residential, highways, railroads, commercial centers, malls, industrial parks and golf courses combined.
Add 788 million acres of pastures and 140 million acres are forested lands that are used for livestock grazing and you can see quickly where our priorities stand.
“No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs–anything–but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art museums, legislative assemblies, private bedrooms and the other sanctums of our culture; we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places. An increasingly pagan and hedonistic people (thank God!), we are learning finally that the forests and mountains and desert canyons are holier than our churches. Therefore let us behave accordingly.”
I know, this is not a popular proposal. But it’s worth a thought. I am sitting out a snow storm in April, waiting for the storm to move out, so I can ride my bicycle into Yellowstone National Park. It is still winter up here. Nevertheless, the Park Service has opened the roads for bicyclists, two weeks before they open the roads to cars. That’s the one chance to experience the interior of the park on bike before the summer onslaught.
Unfortunately the road to Old Faithful is still closed, due to heavy bear activity. Apparently the grizzlies have come out of hibernation and are munging on bison that have succumbed in the thermal areas to winter starvation.
Later this year, millions of tourists will line the roads and observe wildlife from the safety of their cars. Some will get out and try to ride a bison or get a selfie with a bear cub…
Not the park Ed envisioned.
Yesterday, I came across an article that touched upon technology efforts in the name of conservation: Algorithmic Wilderness: Robo-bees and drone-seeded forests: can technology mend our broken relationship with the natural world?
It was not so much the idea to develop drones doing the work of bees that puzzled me. Or the idea to plant a billion trees a year using unmanned aerial vehicles – the goals may be noble, but the approach worries me. Saving the world with technology? Nonetheless, this was not the painful part of the essay. The following sentence was more concerning:
“Wilderness no longer exists. Humans have … irrevocably altered the conditions of life for almost every species on the planet.”
That realization hurt.
It was obvious to me that national parks are just some small protected islands that give us a glimpse what nature can look like. Most parks are too small to maintain a healthy ecosystem without human interference, and the human impact cannot be denied. However, some sparsely populated places like Alaska, Siberia, and Mongolia I thought would still be largely untouched by human activity. Apparently not so. I can see how climate change is affecting regions globally and our continued and renewed expansion into formerly protected areas, like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, certainly does not help the cause. It actually supports the notion of modern conservationist that tell us to give up the romantic idea of true wilderness, untouched by humans.
I must have lived under a rock. I had not heard of Green Modernists, or New Conservationists, Post-environmentalists or Eco-pragmatists until yesterday. These schools argue that we should embrace our planetary lordship and consider Earth as a giant garden. A garden, where we decide what grows, what gets harvested, and what gets eradicated. We are the gardeners calling the shots…
There is a flaw in this thinking: A garden is small enough in scale that we can control most parameters. We can even trick the weather, to a degree, using irrigation, green houses, artificial lights etc. When it comes to our planet however, that analogy fails. We cannot control nor trick the weather, and I am very doubtful that drones are suitable gardening tools to solve global problems. They also will not change the tide of our current thinking that we can fix everything with smarter, better, and more efficient technology.
We simply need to become better stewards of the land. So much for today.
Find more details here:
Some of the world’s most powerful conservationists are giving up on wilderness. They are making a big mistake.
We cannot overlook the importance of wild country as source of inspiration, to which we give expression in writing, in poetry, drawing and painting, in mountaineering, or in just being there.
Olaus Murie was the son of immigrants from Norway. He become a proponent of wilderness areas and a defender of the idea that predators are an essential component of functional ecosystems. He was a talented artist and analytical scientist, both with a strong passion. His efforts, together with those of his wife Mardy, lead ultimately to the creation of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Their lives were shaped by a respect for nature, recognizing the importance of wilderness, and finding opportunities for responsible action.
Isn’t it ironical that our current president wants more immigrants from Norway while at the same time allowing the drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge?
The above picture was taken in the Kluane National Park. It shows the base of Mt. Kennedy rising above the Lowell Glacier and disappearing in the clouds.
A year indoors is a journey
along a paper calendar.
A year in outer nature is the
accomplishment of a tremendous ritual.
Almost 100 years ago Henry Beston spent a whole year in a remote Cape Cod cabin and wrote the The Outermost House. He simply observed and described the change of seasons to an audience that could not afford or endure the hardship and solitude of such an endeavour.
“The world today is sick to its thin blood for the lack of elemental things, for fire before the hands, for water, for air, for the dear earth itself underfoot.”
Even more true today. A great read.
Although I am not living on an island, it sometimes feels like it.
Unless I make the three mile trek to town I hear no human voices. The only footprints around the house are from feathered or furry friends. I don’t mind the isolation, or should I call it insulation? Insulation protects from outside perils.
Without the moon nights have been pitch black. It is a joy to see the sun rise in the morning. Some days there is fog drifting down from the mountains, slowly burning off, giving way to a breath-taking scenery. Those moments make up for the long, dark nights and gray, rainy days.
“The isolation spins its mysterious cocoon,
focusing the mind on one place, one time, one rhythm
– the turning of the light.
The island knows no other human voices, no other footprints.”
M. L. Stedman
I have not read Stedman’s “The Light Between Oceans”, which is apparently a novel about a couple living in a remote lighthouse.
”There is something that appeals to the human psyche about lighthouses because of their isolation. Their presence offers up a marvelous set of dichotomies the human imagination likes to explore – darkness and light, safety and danger, stasis and movement, isolation and communication”, she says.
I have read Bob Kull’s “Solitude: Seeking Wisdom in Extremes”, which is a diary about living alone for one year on a remote island off the Patagonian coast. He took his doctoral dissertation very seriously. At age 55, he traveled to Chile with enough supplies to study the effects of deep wilderness solitude on a human being, himself.
“We experience the earth as a stranger we know we should protect for pragmatic or ethical reasons, but until we individually transform our consciousness and come to experience non-human beings as family and the earth as our home, we are unlikely to relax our demands for comfort and security and make the changes necessary for our survival, joy, and sense of belonging.
His dissertation is available online. It’s an easy and interesting read. You can also learn how much stuff you need to bring to survive for one year on an uninhabited island off Patagonia.