Wilderness Management

Stephen H. Spurr

Given at Berkeley, California, May 3, 1966

A CONVENTIONAL WAY of preparing a sermon is to pick an antithetical topic and then, by semantic elaboration, broaden die meaning of each term so that, in the end, the terms are complementary rather than antithetical. This isn't a sermon, although conservation and religion both flow from the same well-springs of a deep involvement with mankind, its future, and its fundamental needs. (It isn't by accident that many fugitives from theological school end up in forestry and vice versa!)

I do plan to use the same technique, however. The words
wilderness and management conjure up images which clash, particularly when put into juxtaposition. Indeed, by commonly accepted definitions, they are incompatible. Wilderness means "a wild or uncultivated region or tract of land, inhabited only by wild animals." Management clearly connotes acts of administration and treatment; the word is derived from the Latin manus, hand, and literally means "to handle." We can bring the terms into concordance, though, simply by taking the second definition of wilderness in the Oxford Universal Dictionary, as "a piece of ground in a large garden or park, planted with trees, and laid out in an ornamental or fantastic style, often in the form of a maze or labyrinth (1644)."the sweater of a man or on the hide of a deer. Once there, that weed is a part of the natural ecosystem of that particular time and place. Succession is bound to occur, and no human jailer or preservationist can prevent trees from becoming older and dying, to be replaced by the most competitive of whatever plants have current access to the vacant piece of earth.

In short, there is no such thing as an ecological wilderness. If there were, we couldn't preserve it by declaring it a wilderness area. We could, though, approximate a previously existing ecosystem by careful ecological manipulation. That's management.

The Sociological Concept

From a sociological point of view, however, the concept of wilderness has great importance. I submit that wilderness is the environment surrounding a human being when that human being is isolated from the sights, the sounds, and the smells of human activity.

This environment may differ greatly for the different individuals who need and desire it. If a wilderness is indeed a place where one is isolated from the sights, the sounds, and the smells of human activity, then it follows that the quality of a wilderness is defined by those sights, sounds, and smells that each of us associates as being "natural" or, conversely, "man-made." Our individual knowledge and educations are so diverse, and our collective ignorance of nature is so boundless, that we are bound to differ widely as to what seems to us to be congruous and what is incongruous in nature.

To a seventeenth-century Londoner, this spiritual release might have been achieved by "a piece of ground in a large garden or park, planted with trees, and laid out in an ornamental or fantastic style, often in the form of a maze of labyrinth." To Marie Antoinette, it was the park at Versailles. To Longfellow, it was the forest primeval complete with "thatched roof cottages, the homes of Acadian villagers, men whose lives glided on like rivers that water the woodland." To Thoreau, it was the rather completely domesticated pond at Walden or the agrarian landscape of the Concord and Merrimac rivers. For Muir, it was the giant Sequoias with a hut in a hollow log.

For the average Sierra Club member, it may be a mountain meadow, complete with pack train and primus stove. To others it may be a float trip in the Grand Canyon on waters regulated by the Glen Canyon Dam upstream. To some of our urbanites it may even be a thicket in a city park, or a backyard in a suburban home. For my own part, however, I just can't find it

These past two years, for instance, I have been over a good deal of Alaska, and I have yet to be completely isolated from the contrail in the sky, the bush plane, the geophysical survey line and the mute evidence of Athapaskan-set fire. Even the very presence of deer and moose bespeaks the man-caused reduction in the grizzly bear and the mountain lion.

Every man has his own concept of a wilderness, and that concept is important to him.
Common Denominators
I do not deny that there are common denominators in these concepts and that these can be identified and defined. Let me try some of the most obvious:

Perhaps the most common concept of the wilderness is the appearance of the landscape of the North American continent at the time that particular piece of landscape was first seen by men of the white race and western culture. Man has been on this continent for more than ten thousand years and has weathered the last major advance of the Pleistocene ice in company wit the wooly mammoth. I suspect that most of us would find a landscape of glaciated mountains in Arizona with mammoths browsing on the flanks at least slightly incongruous. We rather prefer to consider the Indians a natural part of the landscape (even when equipped with Spanish horses), and tend to group the incursions of the Norsemen and early Spaniards as more or less compatible with the wilderness. It was only when the English-speaking farmer arrived on the scene that the wilderness ended. The sombreroed cowboy slumped on his horse and outlined against the setting sun is appropriately a part of the desert range. So is the fur-hatted trapper, paddling his canoe silently past hostile Indian encampments, even though the Indians may have just recently moved to that territory as a result of a dominoseried set of wars with the whites to the east or with other tribes more numerous and more warlike. Regardless, the landscape as first seen by our forefathers is authentically one type of wilderness—even though that landscape had not been the same a century before and certainly was not the same a century later.

The second commonly accepted concept of wilderness is that of the landscape as we ourselves saw it in our youth. To me, wilderness is the backwoods on my family summer place in

New Hampshire where I grew up and where my life goals were formed. As a ecologist, I later learned that these same lands had once supported a forest of quite different kind, that these forests had been cut in the eighteenth century and the land farmed for a century or more, and that the present forest was at least the second successional stage since land abandonment. It was and is, however, still wilderness to me.

The same concept applies to our efforts to preserve the Allagash wilderness in Maine. These forests have been logged and otherwise managed for nearly two hundred years. They have been materially changed by King George's Broad Arrow policy, the Paul Bunyan prototype, the spruce budworm, the birch dieback and the maple blight. Conservationists, however, are united in wanting to keep them as they are, which really means as they conceive them to have been in the recent past.

The same concept holds in the western mountains where
much of our wildland has been modified sharply by sheep, cattle and horse grazing, by overbrowsing by deer made possible through the elimination of their natural predators, and by plant distributions modified sharply by man-set fire, the introduction of weeds, and the introduction of pathogens, and other human activities. Wilderness is what we recall of the nostalgia of our youth. It is real and it is important. It cannot be preserved by being locked up. It can, however, be approximated by careful ecological management. There are many other concepts of wilderness of equal validity. I shall mention only one other, and that is the obvious value of a tract of wilderness as an ecological benchmark against which we can measure the changes in nature brought about by man. As an ecologist, I can only be unreservedly in favor of the permanent setting aside of natural areas representing a wide variety of vegetation types, soil types, and climatic types. I would argue that such areas are not virgin because virgin is an absolute term and these areas are only relatively unaffected by human activity. True, also, they will not remain as they are but will change gradually with plant succession, animal succession, soil development, and climatic changes. These points, however, do not detract from the value of the concept. Such natural areas should and indeed must be segregated and protected. They are important to science; they are also important to mankind.

The examples bring me back to my point that wilderness is what the individual man imagines it to be. If he senses an incongruous element in the landscape, the illusion is destroyed. But what is or is not incongruous to him depends upon his education, his cultural heritage, and his own inherent desire. A flock of peacocks in an old-growth live-oak wood in Florida may provide the ultimate wilderness touch to most tourists-and it may destroy the beauty of the forest to others. The blue gum second-growth in the San Francisco Bay area is part of the indigenous flora of the region to the present generation, while it remains an Australian exotic to our fathers and to our horticulturists. Strangely enough, I myself accept the grove at the foot of the Berkeley campus as being entirely congruous with its environment, although perhaps I should know better. A glacial-transported erratic boulder may be a natural object of scientific curiosity to the amateur geologist, but he may not in fact be able to distinguish it from another stone brought in by truck to grace a picnic ground in the National Forest.

In short, the wilderness exists, but as a sociological rather than as an ecological phenonoma. It is what we as humans, both individually and collectively, imagine it to be.

The Concept of Management

Coming now to the term management, the meanings indicated by such synonyms as administration, operation, and treatment are shaded in the context of forestry and wilderness by hidden modifiers. To most conservationists, management conjures up the image of timber management, which is then interpreted as logging, and usually destructive logging at that. It is no wonder that management is something of a dirty word t the conservationist with a capital C. Even should dialogue between the wildland manager and the conservationist result in agreement upon a more general meaning of the term, the concept of wilderness management is .still likely to be opposed on the grounds that once the door is open, the portable gasoline saw will inevitably sneak through.

I argue that management categorizes the intelligent ecological manipulation of wildland to achieve the objectives of ownership; that the preservation philosophy of wilderness protection is not only ecologically unsound, but is negative, impractical, and bound to defeat its own ends; and that, in any event, we are already practicing what I am preaching and it is high time we take our collective heads out of the sand and move toward our common goals by facing up to reality.

I use the term management in its strict common-English sense to designate man's planned activity in the treatment of wildlands. He has many techniques at his disposal. The use of cutting tools to sever large trees at the ground line is only one method, and one that has very little relevance to the management problem of prolonging the life and health of large trees in wildland reserves. There are situations where trees should be removed because they have become centers of infection for insects or diseases that threaten the remainder of the stand, but this can be accomplished unobtrusively. In forests of high intrinsic value as living trees, I can foresee a time when we might carefully sever such trees below the ground line, cover up the unsightly stump, and remove the tree together with its hoard of pathogens by balloon transport. By and large, however, logging has little or no place in wilderness management.

Similarly, other management techniques such as prescribe fire, chemical treatment, cultivation, fertilization, pruning, planting, and the cutting of understory vegetation must be used sparingly and unobtrusively in wildland management and only in those specific situations where they are necessary for such purposes as halting unwanted forest succession, protecting the wildland from insect and disease epidemics, preserving mountain meadows, or maximizing wilderness vistas and scenic values. The aim always should be to avoid the introduction of obvious man-created incongruities into the landscape. Let me cite a few examples.

Itasca State Park in Minnesota has fine old-growth stands of red pine and extensive middle-aged stands of jack pine surrounding the headwaters of the Mississippi River. Detailed ecological and historical studies, which I made in 1951 and 1952, indicated clearly that the red pine stands owed their origin to forest fires, several of which have occurred in historic times. Furthermore, the longevity of these old-growth stands could well be limited by the precarious vigor of the intermediate and sup- pressed red pine of the same age class. Careful removal of these smallest trees in the overstory would not only add substantially to the life of the forest, but would result in an increase of about two inches in the average diameter, and therefore in the impressiveness, of the residual stand. Moreover, the jack pine stands were almost certain to disintegrate within a relatively few years because of the short-lived nature of the species, a prediction which could be documented from the history of permanent sample plots in the Park. Judicious clearcutting of certain jack pine areas with attendant silviculturally developed regeneration of the species would be necessary to guarantee the future presence of the jack pine stands desirable for road location, picnic facilities, and other aesthetic and recreational purposes in the decades ahead. In the absence of silvicultural management, the pine stands of both species would be entirely replaced, slowly in the case of red pine and quickly in the case of jack pine, with spruce and fir forests of far lesser aesthetic, recreational, or ecological interest.

In a grove of bigtrees, the obvious management objectives is to preserve the giant sequoias themselves in a natural and scenic setting. To the professional, this may not be a wilderness problem but to the public it is. This involves many management procedures, most of which have in fact been adopted from time to time. Wildfire must be kept out and this is management. Insect and disease epidemics must be curbed without drawing a fine line between those pathogens classified as exotics because their migration to the site is known partly to have been facilitated by man and those pathogens which are assumed to be endemics. This is management. Since the bigtrees themselves owe their existence and pertetuation to fire, alternative procedures must be developed to create new groves for the enjoyment of future generations if wildfire is kept out. This means artificial cropping of the fir understory, site preparation, planting or sowing of sequoia regeneration, and careful overstory thinning to bring the new trees through to a dominant position. This, too, is management. I might add that in my view management does not include the building of refreshment stands or campgrounds in the middle of the old-growth stands of trees. At higher elevations in the Sierra, the Cascades, and the Rockies are mountain meadows which owe their existence in part to local soil conditions, in part to past lightning fires, and which are perpetuated by grazing, by snowpack, and by repeated burning. It is a valid wilderness objective to perpetuate these meadows which are natural at least in appearance and which add so much to the scenery of high-elevation timber zones. This can be done through specific pescriptions of controlled grazing, controlled burning, and in some cases cutting of invading forest trees. In the absence of such management, many of these meadows will move through natural successional stages back to high forest.

Spectrum of Objectives
I can conceive of a whole spectrum of objectives in wilderness preservation and creation. Just as there is a wide range of kinds of wilderness in the hearts of man, there must be an equal range in nature so that each person can find his particular kind of wilderness. At one extreme of this spectrum is the primitive area, denied to horses and motorized trail vehicles alike, and accessible only to the hiker looking for as complete an escape as possible from the sights, the sounds, and the smells of human activity.

At the other is the urban open space, carefully planned, landscaped, and managed to create the maximum feeling of naturalness and space despite the pressures of heavy human use This is the modern equivalent of our seventeenth century wilderness laid out in an ornamental or fantastic style, often in the form of a maze or labyrinth."

In between we have natural areas planned and equipped to permit visitation by groups. In such areas we should have suitable sanitary's facilities inconspicuously placed and other care-fully planned results of managerial decision designed to meet the needs of exposing the amateur enthusiast to a reasonable facsimile of virginity.

To cite one final point on the broad spectrum of wildernesses let us not forget that the managed forest itself is true wilderness to a great many of us. There are few more intensively managed areas anywhere than the Black Forest of Baden and Wurtenberg, and yet this is a wilderness mecca not only for all of Europe but for many Americans. I have already mentioned the wilderness values admitted by even ardent conservationists for the long-managed forests along the Allagash River in Maine We are seeing the same values being gradually accepted by many thousands of westerners who gratify their desires for wilderness in the national and industrial forests of the Pacific West Coast which are being intensively managed for sustained yield timber production and other uses. I don't mean to imply in the least that we should extend multiple-use management across the board or even necessarily to other areas. I do claim that the areas now under multiple-use management can and do provide a type of wilderness highly satisfying to a great many and possibly to a majority of our people.

Let me recant at this point and say that I do not really believe that I am saying anything revolutionary, although I am trying to make you believe that I am. This spectrum of wilderness that I describe is the exact same spectrum that we all acknowledge and that we are trying to preserve with our system of wilderness areas, national parks, national forests, industrial forests, recreational areas, and urban open space programs. It is important that we appreciate the whole spectrum. It is important that we provide for the legal withdrawal and dedication of areas bracketing this range of desires and range of objectives. It is important that we have strong legislation and strong citizen activism safeguarding areas in one category from being caught in an imperceptible mudflow and allowed to slide into another. In short, I am strongly in favor of national parks, of the dedication of formal wilderness areas, and of public ownership to safeguard intangible values of our citizenry as a whole. What I am arguing for is the introduction of more science in general, and more ecology in particular into the decision and management process.

I could go on, but I hope that my point has been made. A negative approach, arguing for fencing off and keeping hands off the wilderness will at the very least permit succession to move on unabatedly and this may or may not be desirable from the standpoint of mankind. The negative approach additionally creates the possibility of wholesale destruction of the values for which the wilderness was originally set aside. Carried to its extreme, the preservationist philosophy would not permit manto curb forest fires, to make any effort to control even the most virulent pathogens, or to allow fishing or hunting of any kind in the wilderness. To permit any of these things would be to rationalize and to subvert the basic philosophy.

By stressing the concept of wilderness management, I argue for a thinking and a positive role in the creation and preservation of wilderness. We must first identify what we wish to have on a specific tract of land. Then, we must set up a pattern of ownership, legal restraints, management skills, and management directives to attain these particular ends. These cannot be achieved in a few years, so we must continue to strive for ownership patterns, laws, and public support that will permit the managers to work consistently toward the public goal and which will restrict efforts by vested interests to change policies in their own favor. In short, we should be positive and not negative; we should be active and not passive; we should be wilderness managers and not Conservationists.

May, 1966


Introducing: Stephen H. Spurr

FORESTER, ECOLOGIST, resource analyst, and educator, Stephen H. Spurr brings to his many interests an active concern with detail combined with a quick insight into the significance of broad relationships. These qualities are reflected in his many publications directed to a greater understanding of the resources of the forested and wild lands of North America.

First exposed to wilderness as a boy in the backwoods of his family's summer place in New Hampshire, he kept up his interest in ecology that led him to a bachelor's degree in botany from the University of Florida in 1938, and to a Master of Forestry degree from Yale University in 1940. He then began a career in research at Harvard Forest, serving as acting director of the Forest during part of this period. In 1950 he was awarded the Ph.D. by Yale University, then joined the faculty of the School of Forestry, University of Minnesota. Shifting to the University of Michigan in 1952, he served as Dean of the School of Natural Resources at Ann Arbor from 1962 to 1965, at which time he was appointed as Dean of the Rackham School of Graduate Studies.

Working with never-flagging energy and enthusiasm. Dean Spurr has contributed in depth to several facets of his main field of interest. His early studies at Harvard Forest involved the use of aerial photographs in the interpretation of forest vegetation. Recognizing the potentials of this approach, he soon gained an international reputation in photographic interpretation as the author of Aerial Photographs in Forestry (1948) and a leading contributor to this emerging science. A revision of this book entitled Photo grammetry and Photo-interpretation (1960) is currently widely used as a textbook.

Moving from this work with aerial photographs to a more general concern with the measurement of vegetation. Dean Spurr became involved in various studies of the measurement of significant characteristics of forests. This phase of his work culminated in his book. Forest Inventory, published in 1952.

Throughout this work his primary interest continued to be forest ecology. In addition to his research with photographs and measurements. Dean Spurr carried out a wide range of studies in silviculture and ecology. European travel and a period as Fulbright Research Scholar in New Zealand also contributed to the development of his own integrated concept of forest ecology. A National Science Foundation Science Faculty Fellowship gave him the opportunity for further study and writing, and in 1964 he published Forest Ecology.

In addition to these four books. Dean Spurr has published a large number of research papers related to photographic interpretation, forest mensuration, and ecology. He was also the founder and first editor of the journal. Forest Science. His increasing interest in the social aspects of resource use is reflected in his recent service as leader of a study team which analyzed the Rampart Dam proposal in Alaska for the National Resources Council. And currently he is engaged in a study of the organization of higher education in the United States as it pertains to graduate programs.

As an ecologist and forester concerned with man as well as with the natural scene, Dean Spurr's observations on wilderness management are both provocative and illuminating.