Wilderness - Concept, Function, & Management

Ian McTaggart Cowan

Given at Berkeley, California, April 17, 1968

It is 400 years since our forefathers landed on the coasts of this continent. As a first act they moved the forest edge back far enough for them to cultivate those few essential acres that meant survival during the immediate winter. The trees they felled meant shelter and fuel.

They brought with them the folk skills of much older cultures and an indomitable courage fed in many cases by a despair of what their homeland held for them that made the unknown hardships of a new land seem tolerable. Some came lured by promises of free land, and indeed for almost all this was central to their presence. Their vision of the most desirable situation the world could produce was of a rich and well-watered land that would respond easily, promptly, and perpetually with an abundance of food for the new settlers.

The newcomers, no matter from which part of western Europe they came, imported a rich and frightening folk attitude toward wilderness acquired through the millennia of human struggle to survive living essentially wild. Beasts that preyed upon man and his early domesticated animals lurked in the forests and mountains. His enemies could approach unseen as close as the forest permitted. Every field border was a perpetual lesson that even a brief relaxation of the constant struggle to keep down the weeds would see the forested wilderness moving in on him. He knew, without realizing it, that the unstable state in which he must cultivate set the inexorable forces of succession against him.

Fear of the unknown made the forest a terrible place - full of weird and menacing noises, fierce and dangerous animals, and quasi-human monsters - ever ready to destroy any man venturing into it. The wilderness was where you became lost, with all the terrors that this conjured. Survival as part of it required that man return to savagery, forsaking all concepts of religious ethic.

The successful colonizers of North America were in large measure religious people, Christians, frequently fundamentalist in their acceptance of the scriptures. This source supplemented their native, folk fears of the unseen, unknown and alien. The Judeo-Christian religion is rich in references to the wilderness as the antithesis of land good for man's habitation and survival; it was rather a rude, untamed, a cursed land to strive against with energy and devotion. The pinnacle of achievement was to bring civilization to the wilderness. The price of evil was visited on you in the return of your city to become a waste of "salt pits and thorny bushes."

The Emerging Concept

Nash (1967) in his detailed and interesting account of the origin of early North American attitudes toward wilderness, points to a somewhat opposing view to the one expressed above: that of the biblical role of the wilderness as a sanctuary, as a place where you could be alone with your thoughts and where, under the hardest kind of circumstances, you could find an escape from the evils of society.

It would be tempting to suggest that here are the earliest roots of the revolution in attitude toward the wilderness. There is little likelihood, however, that this is so.

To quote Nash, "The belief that good Christians should maintain an aloofness from the pleasures of the world also helped to determine attitude toward wilderness. The ideal focus for any Christian in the Middle Ages was the attainment of heavenly beatitudes, not enjoyment of the present situation. Such a view tended to check any appreciation of natural beauty. Thus, during the Renaissance, Christianity offered considerable resistance to the development of joy in perceiving wild landscapes. Petrarch's 1336 ascent of Mount Ventaux provides an example. He initially had no other purpose in climbing than experiencing some of the delight he found in wandering free and alone among the mountains, forests and streams. After an all-day effort, Petrarch and his brother gained the summit. 'The great sweep of view spread out before me,' Petrarch wrote to a friend, and 'I stood like one dazed.' Clouds floated beneath his feet, and on the horizon he could see the snow capped Alps. While thus transported with the magnificence of the wild landscape he consulted a copy of Saint Augustine's Confessions which pointed to the enjoyment of majestic scenery as a sinful departure from proper thought. This spoilsport attitude of the Saint destroyed Petrarch's delight.'

It hardly matters that this was a peculiarly western attitude toward wildland and natural beauty. This attitude, derived from its several sources, was the one that governed the thoughts and behavious of European man on this continent during the first centuries of his presence. He attacked nature, wilderness, wildlife and the native peoples with an almost religious fervor. The elimination of wilderness and all it meant was goal enough. There was no suggestion of a blending of man and nature into a unique and satisfying partnership.

As Toqueville wrote the America he visited in 1831, "The Americans themselves never think about (the wilds), they are insensible to the wonders of inanimate nature.... Their eyes are fixed upon another sight, the... march across these wilds, draining swamps, turning the course of rivers, peopling solitudes, and subduing nature."

Any reading of the early history of this continent from the fragile foothold on the eastern seaboard to the great march westward convinces you that subjugation of the wilderness and all it stood for became a national aim, a source of wonderment and pride that rallied men to undertake incredible hardships.

Man is a problem-solving animal; he is at his best when challenging goals are clearly visible. This was the goal, the guiding star and inspiration of our first centuries on this continent. We must acknowledge the role of this challenge. It seems to me most probable that existing nations would not be here without it and the qualities it fostered in the participants in the game. The national characteristics of venturing anything, of fertile inventiveness, and quick, effective adaptation of technological novelty to the benefit of man, may well have originated largely from the unremitting struggle to convert all of North America into the ingredients for a new way of life.

In making this point I neither condone nor excuse the excesses that occurred. To a considerable extent our ecological wisdom today is that of hindsight. It is recent and far from complete. There is no denying that the momentum gained by man the converter in North America, has carried him to a point where his own best interests are threatened on many fronts, and it is not easy to alter course without losing some way.

The profound change in attitude toward wilderness is an outgrowth of the scientific revolution. We find its seeds in the explorations of Aristotle. The concept of the world as a unified system, with understandable design, where processes and natural events were not the expression of the displeasure of God or the whim of a resident spirit, developed slowly with the advance of science. The universe, seen as a limitless, wonderfully complex and yet orderly and predictable system led men to marvel. The majestic dimensions of this vision led inevitably, in the intellectual climate of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, to the concept of a divine mechanism.

It was an easy step to seeing the handiwork of God in the beauties of nature that must always have delighted and awed man. The progress of this evolution, in its early stage, is of course known only from the works of the intellectuals of the day. I suspect that the concepts they reflect were wider than they now appear to us. In North America we were so busy hacking at the wilderness that we seldom paused in admiration. But ideas flowed quite easily from the old world to the new, and the era of biological exploration was upon us. The flowering of European Romanticism soon found a source of attention in the great continent that was becoming mapped, the biological and geographic wonders that were becoming known. The Romantics of the new world saw their environment in a new light, and a body of literature expressed this new vision. It must he admitted that only those standing far enough from the day-to-day frontier of contact with the wildlands found this vision appealing. To the pioneer, the frontiersman, trapper, and homesteader the wilderness still was a thing to be tamed and made to produce the means of livelihood. It was the scientist-naturalist, artist, vacationer and writer - those who were able to choose their contact and disengage at will - who saw and expressed the concept of unaltered nature as something of delight.

As the villages became towns and more were spawned on the periphery, as the settlements on the two coastlines flowed together and merged, travel in comfort became a fact of life. It was possible to travel great distances and never face direct contact with wilderness conditions. For those educated and well-to-do, the land beyond the frontiers of settlement, the unbroken forests of the far north and west, the great barriers of the Rockies and Sierra Nevada, the untouched lakes and unfished streams, the bands of bighorn on the desert ranges of the southwest, and the voice of a timberwolf in the evening, became the stuff of dreams. Wilderness had to be sought, it was novelty, it offered exciting possibilities for a change from the established routines of city life, physically challenging and revitalizing to the jaded spirit. Thus seen, it had the value of remoteness and rarity, wilderness to them became not something to destroy but a treasured opportunity for recreation.

Nash (1967) charts a course that moves cautiously but convincingly through the impact of American independence upon the identification of wilderness as a national symbol. He exposes the evolving impact of this concept on the authors and poets of the day, and through them to the national attitude. Inevitably, this trail of thought led to expressions of sadness over the progressive destruction of wildland with all its endowment of changing life.

By the middle of the nineteenth century our population had developed a capacity for altering nature unique in the world. No other people anywhere at any time had so rapidly and irrevocably altered the face of a continent. Thousands of square miles of forest land lay in unimaginable devastation from logging and fire. The buffalo and its consorts on the Great Plains were gone along with the clouds of passenger pigeons; the sea otter no longer haunted the kelp beds of the Pacific. As yet there was no national conscience to view this misbehaviour as reprehensible and, in the larger sense, destructive even to the interest of succeeding generations who must build their lives in the wreckage.

There is no doubt that had we a chance to rerun the film of history as North Americans developed their nations, many of the details could be different. I wonder, though, whether this unrivaled assault on the natural resources was not an almost inescapable event in the gestation of the twentieth century on this continent. Starting with nothing but the passion and the restlessness distilled in the discontented of Europe, the new American, in three centuries, built the capital and the technology upon which an era of unprecedented riches developed. It was essential that such an evolution be freewheeling and uncontained as it was inevitable that in ignorance, which was excusable, and avarice, which was not, certain irreversible errors took place.

Thoreau, Bryant, Cole, Parkman, and Cooper were leaders in developing new sensitivity among Americans for the lands of this continent. It has seemed to me that Catlin (1926) had the most realistic vision of what lay ahead. He was devoted to the wilderness and all it meant, and sharpened his perspectives in a series of excursions into the Great Plains and the farther west. He was convinced of the worth of wilderness and sensed that the progressive separation of people from wildland and its creatures would lead to increasing appreciation-and a yearning for contact with it:

"...The further we become separated from that pristine wildness and beauty, the more pleasure does the mind of enlightened man feel in recurring to those scenes."

It was Catlin, also, who in 1832 had the first vision of a National Park as the immediate answer to what he saw as the inevitable spread of settlement and town building, removal of the living resources, and personal appropriation of more and more land. He saw the possibility of the nation acting as a matter of design to retain large segments of wildland dedicated to the perpetuation of the native peoples, landscapes, and wildlife. He saw "a beautiful and thrilling specimen for America to preserve and hold up to the view of her refined citizens and the world in future ages! A nation's Park containing man and beast in all the wild and freshness of their natures beauty!" "I would ask no other monument to my memory...than the reputation of having been the founder of such an institution" (Catlin, 1926, p. 295). This same thought was even more eloquently expressed by Thoreau (1858). He writes, "Why should not we...have our National preserves...in which the bear and panther, and some even of the hunter race, may still exist, and not be 'civilized off the face of the earth' ...our forests...not for idle sport or food, but for inspiration and our own true recreations?"

Within twenty years, the dream of Catlin, Thoreau, and their contemporaries was to become a reality with the creation of Yellowstone National Park out of 3,000 square miles of Wyoming's Rocky Mountains. The initial impetus for this imaginative innovation in public policy was certainly the preservation of the museum qualities of this extraordinary assemblage of mountains, forests, lakes, and hotsprings. Much later the realization arose that it was far more than that.

Probably the most important role of Yellowstone to the wilderness movement in North America was its service as a proving ground. At last the protagonists of the values of the unspoiled natural environment had a rallying point. At the same time, the champions of the unquestioned right of anyone to acquire public land and to do with it what brought him greatest profit had met an impediment. I doubt that any other area in the world has had a more important impact on our evolving concepts of the role of the federal government in the preservation of wildland and wildlife; of the rights of the public versus the rights of private citizens regarding land values; and of the competing claims of federal and state governments on the management of wildlife.

Wilderness: Pragmatic or Romantic?

The ink was hardly dry on the birth certificate before some were seeking to destroy the new infant. The protagonists of private privilege attacked it during budget debates, the railroad builders sought rights of way through it, and the now-familiar derogatory comparisons between developing mineral wealth versus the preservation of a few buffaloes and elk, or what you will, was already being drawn. In the incessant battles that have been waged around Yellowstone since this first National Park was created we have learned much.

We have been forced to examine our concepts of the National Parks, and the part they can play in North America as its population continues to grow and becomes progressively more city-bound. We have studied the role of the private and public sectors in providing, guaranteeing, and operating the facilities for public use of wildland recreational opportunities. The mechanism for obtaining and using the advice of private experts in the solution of problems of principle and practice in the management of National Parks has been explored in detail. This park certainly will continue to be in forefront, as solutions are sought for the besetting problems of the 70's - more people, more leisure, and more and more varied mechanical transport.

But Yellowstone was created largely as a living museum, with no thought of its value in the preservation of wilderness. In lockstep with the debates on Yellowstone was the campaign that finally led to the designation of the Adirondack Forest Reserve in New York State. Here again no wilderness concept, as we now recognize it, was among the stated purposes of the reserve. The major interest was utilitarian, to maintain the watersheds that nourish the Hudson Valley, to move its commerce and water its cities.

The conflicts that finally crystallized the wilderness concept were fought across the continent as the newly created National Forests received their terms of reference. The establishment of these great tracts of forest land as national treasures was a monumental action to gainsay the right of private despoilers. In every sense it marked a victory for conservation. Even in this triumph, however, one of the greatest and continuing schisms in the conservation movement arose. Its background is simple: The concept of wilderness brooks only the most trivial consumptive use of its resources. The concept of sustained-yield harvest, on the other hand, rests upon periodic removal of the entire tree crop with all that this entails in disturbance and modification of the environment. The champions of the two causes were John Muir and Gifford Pinchot, both men of immense capacity, sensitivity, and imagination - the romanticist and the pragmatist. Both were sincerely dedicated to improving man's orientation to his natural environment, both conservationists in every sense.

Pinchot's influence carried the day at that time, and it has taken the intervening half century to work out the compromise. At the same time, the conflict was in many ways an essential part of the maturing of the wilderness ideal and its proponents. The intensity of debate sharpened concepts, ideals, objectives, and alternatives.

What Muir sought was absolute protection for "his" wilderness for no other reason than its loneliness. He saw it as the antithesis to civilization and the antidote for many of its ills. He sought to educate men to become part of nature, not its antagonist, and to recover a respect for the right to live for all nature without payment of toll to man. His was the dedication of the mystic. He saw the need for resources in the service of man but he saw the glory of God in the untouched wilderness.

He lived in a period when conservation became popular. At the root of the concern were both the revulsion against the earlier excesses of those who exploited as if the continent's resources were limitless and indestructible, and the rising anxiety about the physical deterioration of the landscape. An already affluent society, largely separated from wildland, gave rise to a growing body of influential devotees of wilderness pursuits. One outcome of John Muir's fight for the Sierra of California was the birth of the Sierra Club with a founding dedication to "preserve the forests and other features of the Sierra Nevada Mountains." As the Yellowstone provided an immediate objective to the conservationists so the Sierra Club became the rallying point and the means of expression for the many who found in wild creatures and unaltered landscapes an essential component of life.

The simple formality in Warren Olney's office in San Francisco that June 4, 1892, when 27 dedicated men founded the Sierra Club, can be seen in retrospect as the next landmark along the route to the formal and sophisticated concept of wilderness as a valuable and thoroughly desirable use of national lands. Here, for the first time, was a company of citizens, dedicating themselves as a private body to work for a cause, which they valued, of course, but which they saw as of primary and ever-increasing importance as an essential ingredient in the kind of nations this continent was to nourish.

Its medium of action was to be public education and political persuasion. No personal financial gain was contemplated. It was a new venture - the public in defense of the public domain in a dollar-hungry society where convertibility had automatic priority. It has been the prototype of a number of other organizations with related dedications.

As a society develops so also do its rules. Law, evolved to reflect the legal position of land as a commodity, is designed for those who would exploit it. The developer, in general, has greater claim under such law. It is an interesting commentary that in British Columbia, probably one of the best-watered areas of the continent, the water act defines 14 legal uses for water in order of priority. Nowhere among them is water as an environment for aquatic creatures. Here also the range act does not recognize wild grazers as range users. One of the most urgent and overdue legal reforms in both Canada and the United States is the overhaul of our concepts of the right to abuse land as the logical concomitant of individual liberty in private ownership.

The components of the evolution were almost all in place. The unquestioning right to turn everything possible into immediate short-term profit had been challenged and powerful citizen groups in the United States were geared to do battle in this context. The National Parks of the United States and Canada enjoyed the protection of acts of Congress or Parliament and, particularly in the United States, any raids on their convertible resources were likely to be expensive and to result in serious loss of public esteem. In Canada the citizen groups were lacking and the National Parks were violated repeatedly and quietly. The citizen group is essential to our social organization where wildland values are concerned. The Civil Service and elected representatives, unguided by the organized conscience of the dedicated, are too vulnerable to the economic religion of our time. A powerful force in this context arose with the Wilderness Society and its lifelong president Olaus J. Murie.

The first half of the twentieth century made its contribution in the form of the science of ecology, The integrated systems point of view developed. The environment and its entire cargo of life was seen as an interrelated web of cause and effect, where every plant and animal plays an essential role in the drama. So viewed, the wilderness took on new meaning. Many biologists had a hand in developing and fleshing out the ecological view of the continent but some names seem inseparable from the movement to relate ecology to management of wild land and its biota. Victor E. Shelford of Illinois was writing vigorously on the establishment and management of ecological reserves (1920). Joseph Grinnell of the University of California, in his quiet scholarly way, exposed the details and told his story in two hundred or more documents. Half a continent away, Aldo Leopold was becoming a household word among the knowledgeable. His rare insight and missionary zeal coupled with a delightful and poignant prose style made him a unique and effective leader in his field; his momentum has long outlived him.

Wilderness Values and Evaluation

We have been watching the progress of an idea through the consciousness of the peoples of a continent: The discovery that one of the most unique attributes of this continent was the majesty and diversity of its wild landscapes and wildlife. The great sweep of American ecosystems from the frigideserts of Ellesmere Island to tropical rain forests of the Caribbean shore; the Appalachians, Rockies and Sierra Nevada, the Mississippi, St. Lawrence, Saskatchewan, Colorado, Fraser and Columbia; the bristle cone pines, the great sequoias, the cypress-lined Bayous with their limpkins, spoonbills, and alligators; the ivory bill, whooping crane, grizzly, and bighorn - symbols of a quality that was distinctively American. In this day when all ancient values are questioned it is important to note that it was the burgeoning pride of a young nation seeking for symbols of its greatness that recognized these natural attributes as its equivalent of the antiquities of the old world.

Not only could the North American wilderness be made to yield its treasure in the form of timber, mineral, grass and hydropower but it had value of a different kind in its unspoiled state. The central argument since the inception of this concept has been to identify these values and to relate them to those of the more familiar marketplace.

We have seen that the origins of the wilderness concept lay in the recognition that some people enjoyed the contact with unaltered landscapes. In the solitude they offered, in the soul-stirring scenes of infinite variety, there was a fascination in the swiftly changing vision of wild creatures and in the surging vitality of many small lives. Perhaps it was the contrast, perhaps nostalgia for the vision of a vanishing past, perhaps the search for challenge. Today we might say it was the unknowing search for variety of sensory input without which no creature, no man, develops full potential. Whatever underlay the discovery, the values of wilderness were most easily described in romantic if not spiritual terms. In this value system, wilderness was arrayed alongside cathedrals, art galleries, museums, opera houses, and medicine in the abstract. It made men whole, lightened the burdens of civilization, stimulated visions, it was psychedelic in the truest sense. It was also public, not private - a treasure to be left unaltered in a nation worshipping the bulldozer, and where the unquestioned standard of value was the "fast buck." Wilderness was not seen not as a use but an antiuse.

The violent clash of interest was inevitable - a national, unquestioned dedication had been called to question. The comparisons were incomparable. Thwarting the exploitation of a mineral resource for the preservation of the beauty of a landscape is still incomprehensible to many. The wilderness dream lacked the powerful association with culture that had developed an aura around the religious and artistic temples of the cities. The spiritual and physical fallout was more esoteric and certainly less marketable, but it had persuasive pleaders and it soon gained strength from an exploding demand for outdoor recreation. But the protectors were resisted by those who maintained that no land was serving until it was altered to man's whim, and vehement demands arose to put an economic value on wilderness and National Parks. These demands were as vigorously denied as inappropriate by the champions of wildlands.

Nonetheless the economist is not comfortable until most of man's likes and wants can be fitted to the economic equation. Several ingenious approaches to such quantification have been proposed. The cost of all goods and services devoted to participation was among the first devices, followed by Sumner's proposal of alternative time value. Both provided some sort of statistical base for comparison, but the need was for more than mere figures. A philosophical framework within which legitimate comparisons can be made with alternative uses of land is essential.

In the meantime, the ecologists added several demands and opportunities to the role of wildland for recreational purposes

To them the unaltered ecosystem is a standard against which the extent and consequence of the impact of change can be measured. "Wild places reveal what the land was, what it is, and what it ought to be" (Leopold, 1941). Each ecosystem is a storehouse of unextracted information ready to yield its many in sights to today's and tomorrow's ecologists in direct relation to the penetration of the research approach. The natural biota of such ecosystems is seen also as a reservoir of the genetic constructs from millions of years of evolutionary trial and elimination. The potential gain to man from this store of DNA is as yet unguessed. Plant and animal breeding and culture have produced crop bionts that direct energy into greater productivity than was possible in the wild, where the energy was put to combating diseases, pests, and inhospitable climate. Frequently these changes have been accompanied by loss of biological diversity. This, in turn, may give rise to the need to reintroduce some wild genetic characteristic that may be drawn from the wildlife pool in the ecological reserves.

I am sure, also, that as we learn to fashion DNA complexes to our ends, the search will be for templates that convey the required message. These again will often send the researcher to the unaltered wild species. Further, as Spurr (1963) has stated, "an understanding of the nature and dynamics of the wild community is vitally important to an understanding of life itself."

Concern is also growing for the survival of many wild species that seem incapable of adapting to the environmental alterations we impose. For each of these troubled species we recognize there may well be ten we are unaware of. The only way to assure their survival for our present and future interest is to preserve intact large enough segments of their habitat.

Others have mentioned the untapped resources of biological chemicals, remaining unknown in the list of species, that can be maintained only in natural ecosystems as opportunities for our future use. Quinine, cortisone, heparin, digitalis and strychnine are among the better known of a host of drugs discovered first in wild plants. Because only a fraction of the potential medicinal yield of wild plants has yet been realized, it makes good sense to preserve the opportunity to examine all species for their potential.

Viewed in light of these claims for potential good, preservation of wilderness conditions acquires a source of entry into the economic equation. It assumes the role of preserving our option. Krutilla (1967) has developed this view with ingenious insight. He defines the central problem as providing for the present and future the amenities and values associated with unspoiled natural environments for which the market is unlikely to provide. He asks "on what basis, then, can we make decisions when we confront a choice entailing action which will have an irreversibly adverse consequence for rare phenomena of nature.... If the use which promises the highest present net value is incompatible with preserving the environment in its natural state, does it necessarily follow that the market will allocate the resources efficiently?"

The economic conundrum is that the potential losers cannot influence the decision in their favour by their aggregate willingness to pay, yet the owner of a resource he uses may not be able or willing to compensate the loser from what he has gained through exploitation.

Krutilla proposes the notion of option demand - a willingness to pay for retaining an option to use an area or ecosystem that would be impossible to replace once altered and for which there is no close substitute. In the normal market, options are tradeable. In the matter of a resource such as wilderness, however, one experiences all the frustrations of organizing a market for public goods. Especially it is true that many of those likely to profit by the maintenance of an option will not contribute to it because they know they cannot be excluded from the later benefits.

"Analysis of this situation reveals, that there is a variety of unconventional economic problems associated with the natural environment which involves the irreproducibility of unique phenomena of nature - or the irreversibility of some consequence inimical to human welfare. Further, it appears that the utility to individuals of direct association with natural environments may be increasing while the supply is beyond the capacity of man to augment. Then, too, the real cost of refraining from immediately converting our remaining rare natural environments may not be very great. Moreover, with the continued advance of technology, more substitutes for conventional natural resources will be found for the industrial and agricultural sectors." (Krutilla, 1967, p. 184).

To these must be added the legacy concept so ably introduced by Aldo Leopold (1966, p. 222) in his framing of ecological conscience.

The conservation of natural environments and biota, including the wilderness to which our attention is directed, therefore requires action toward the achievement of a higher level of future wellbeing than would be feasible if all possibly convertible resources were sold today for what the market will pay. The action demanded may well violate conventional benefit cost criteria but the reason for the action is clear.

At the same time we must admit that, taking all values into account, we have hardly begun to specify the size of the demand for wilderness. We know that the presence of opportunity, by encouraging the acquisition of skills and experience itself builds demand (Davidson, et al, 1966), but the nature and focus of this demand for different kinds and qualities of wilderness is unknown.

Ecologists and their colleagues have estimated that the need for ecological reserves in North America approximates ten million acres. This is far less than 1 per cent of the total land area of the continent, and its allocation for this purpose would make little impact upon the resource-based industries.

To a certain extent these ecological reserves may function as wilderness areas, but they will certainly be destroyed by any considerable use for recreational purposes. In my view they may be specially designated areas within wilderness tracts or other publicly owned wildlands.

So far I have been emphasizing the somewhat prosaic values of wilderness to man. There is, however, a strong body of public opinion that represents in the twentieth century the romanticism of Marsh and Muir. They argue that the benefits to the wilderness traveler from his experiences are beyond the market place. They are deeply personal, spiritually moving, healing, restorative, recreative in the truest sense. They have been the inspiration for much of our art, poetry, and literature. Wilderness to these, and I am one, has a meaning that cannot to be valued in the economic sense any more than can great music, the Taj Mahal, or Ankor Wat. Appreciation and the capacity to respond deeply get close to the being of man.

Though the wilderness concept has gained much ground on this continent in the last half century, it is constantly under challenge to match values with those proposed by potential users of living or contained elements of the wilderness areas in a destructive way. At such times the doctrine of multiple use is the shibboleth. This doctrine, however, can be interpreted in more than one way. Congressman Ullman (1960) interprets it as the need to convert all usable resources at will into salable products. By inference, the least salable use therefore takes the bottom position on the totem pole. The wilderness concept, as discussed here, does involve multiple use in the truest sense watershed conservation, preservation of valuable genetic material, the opportunity for scientific study, education, and the host of divergent but compatible uses we collect under the recreation umbrella.

Wilderness areas emerge from our analysis in quite a different guise, and this must be strongly emphasized. In Canada where so much of the land is unoccupied and may well be uninhabitable, widespread political confusion exists between an area of wilderness and a Wilderness Area. The latter is not merely a tract of wildland for which no one has yet found any other use. It is a carefully selected category of use, chosen for the richness, magnificence, diversity, or other special quality that it offers in unspoiled state. Certainly its designation and maintenance includes preservation but not exclusively. As a category of use it must have clearly recognizable criteria, it is subject to management for human benefit consistent with the maintenance of its wilderness quality. Its use will be consonant with all other high-quality pursuits of man - the maintenance of low density is a sine qua non.

What is Wilderness?

The early pleas for modification of our destructive exploitation of the living resources of the North American continent were essentially negative in their orientation. Their central theme was to bar the exploiter from some part of the remaining hinterland so it will remain unaltered. A large component of this attitude still lies behind the conservation movement. The most obtrusive change in the primitive landscapes of this continent were those wrought by the logger. The devastation he left was an invitation to wildfire that over huge areas completed the destruction. Inevitably, the first reaction was to restrict the activity that caused the most obvious insult to those who were hurt.

The maturing of the wilderness concept, however, crystallized the ecological and social benefits that the nation could derive from maintaining certain substantial parts of its landscapes unaltered by man. Wilderness became a category of use.

Leopold (1925) saw this vision clearly more than forty years ago. His statement is dramatic and succinct and I can do no better than quote it. "The term wilderness, as here used, means a wild, roadless area where those who are so inclined may enjoy primitive modes of travel and subsistence, such as exploration trips by pack train or canoe."

"The first idea is that wilderness is a resource, not only in the physical sense of the raw materials it contains, but also in the sense of a distinctive environment, which may, if rightly used, yield certain social values. Such a conception ought not to be difficult, because we have lately learned to think of other forms of land use in the same way. We no longer think of a municipal golf links, for instance, as merely soil and grass.

"The second idea is that the value of wilderness varies enormously with location. As with other resources, it is impossible to dissociate value from location. There are wilderness areas in Siberia which are probably very similar in character to parts of our Lake states, but their value to us is negligible, compared with what the value of a similar area in the Lake states would be, just as the value of a golf links would be negligible if located so as to be out of reach of golfers.

"The third idea is that wilderness, in the sense of an environment as distinguished from a quantity of physical materials, is somewhere between the class of non-reproducible resources like minerals, and the reproducible resources like forests. It does not disappear proportionately to use, as minerals do.... On the other hand, wilderness cannot be built at will, like a city park or a tennis court.... Neither can a wilderness be grown like timber, because it is something more than trees. The practical point is that if we want wilderness, we must foresee our want and preserve the proper areas against the encroachment of inimical uses.

"Fourth, wilderness exists in all degrees, from the little accidental wild spot at the head of a ravine in a Corn Belt wood lot to vast expanses of virgin country.

... "Wilderness is a relative condition. As a form of land use it cannot be a rigid entity of unchanging content, exclusive of all other forms. On the contrary, it must be a flexible thing, accommodating itself to other forms and blending with them in that highly localized give-and-take scheme of land-planning which employs the criterion of 'highest use'.... For it is not to be supposed that a public wilderness area is a new kind of public land reservation, distinct from public forests and public parks. It is rather a new kind of land dedication within our system of public forests and parks."

In final emphasis of his concept of wilderness as a use category Leopold proposes to exclude from his consideration any degree of wilderness so absolute as to forbid reasonable protection. This vision involves no "deep freeze" areas from which man is excluded entirely. It is not land and life in a museum cabinet to be viewed only from the outside. It is rather an asset to be enjoyed by many forms of use that leave no legacy of alteration.

Spurr (1963) reaches a different definition of wilderness, starting from much the same principle. "Each of us wants the knowledge that whether we use it or not, whether we visit it or not, there exists available to us a refuge from the sights and sounds and smells of man." He departs along a different trail that he labels biocoenocentric (biocentric) as opposed to the anthropocentric marker he would put on the Leopoldian con-cept. His emphasis is on the omnipresence of change including that introduced by man - be it only the introduction of weeds, or the now universal atmospheric fallout of radiation products and insecticides. "...is there such a thing today as a wilderness devoid of man's influence? The answer is clearly no." In the absolute sense he is undoubtedly right, and thus no such thing exists as true wilderness in this definition. He goes on to propose that "the new wilderness will be a new forest ecosystem relatively undisturbed by man but with a new combination of plants and animals living in a new climate and growing on a new soil...it will be equally attractive to the generation that will see it."

It is his contention that the wilderness of the past has already gone beyond return and that we should depend upon the skills of the manager to assemble a new wilderness for new generations that it will enjoy as fully as the original one which, not having known, they will not miss.

Two years ago Spurr (1966), in his Albright lecture, even more emphatically favored an ersatz wilderness assembled from the bits and pieces left to us from years of human use of the continent. He concludes with the advice that "we should be positive and not negative; we should be active and not passive; we should be wilderness managers, and not conservationists." I should urge those reading this last sentence of Spurr's document to turn immediately to his first sentence where he announces his intention to apply semantic elaboration. This he has done with skill.

The promoter of wilderness concepts is indeed a person actively striving for positive values to benefit man, truly a manager and also a conservationist. I part company with Spurr on his route to the conclusion. However, it contains many inarguable facts nearly wrapped in reductio ad absurdum.

The concept of wilderness toward which most of us strive today is the one outlined so well by Leopold forty years ago. Lois Crisler (1958) has summarized it succinctly. "Great wilderness has two characteristics, remoteness and the presence of wild animals in something like pristine variety and numbers. Remoteness cannot be imitated in cheap materials; and wilderness without animals is mere scenery."

Wilderness Today

The Wilderness Act of 1964 introduced a new era in the story of wilderness use in North America. From that year on there was to be, over half of the continent, a National Wilderness preservation system composed of areas of federally owned land, largely in the National Parks and National Forests, to be designated officially as Wilderness Areas. They were to be administered for use and enjoyment as wilderness in ways that would leave them unimpaired.

For the first time anywhere a land-use category defined as wilderness was created and defined concisely and inclusively: "A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve: its natural conditions and which (1) generally appears to have been affected primarily by the forces of nature, with the imprint of man's work substantially unnoticeable; (2) has outstanding opportunities for solitude or a primitive and unconfined type of recreation; (3) has at least five thousand acres of land or is of sufficient size as to make practicable its preservation and use in an unimpaired condition; and (4) may also contain ecological, geological, or other features of scientific, educational, scenic, or historical value."

The prohibitions of certain kinds of activity that are also part, of the Act are of particular importance as they imply the recognition of certain adjuncts of human activity that have special capacity to destroy the quality of wilderness: .... "There shall be no permanent road within any wilderness area...and except as necessary to meet minimum requirements for administering the area...or in emergencies involving the health or safety of persons using the area, there shall be no temporary road, no use of motor vehicles, motorized equipment or motor boats, no landing of aircraft, no other form of mechanical transport, and no structure or installation within any such area."

There are exceptions to these general prohibitions that are designed to protect existing rights to resource use in certain wilderness areas during a phasing-out period. The most serious exceptions concern mining and flooding by hydro impoundment. These could provide serious erosion of the wilderness areas and will have to be resisted one by one as each is proposed for implementation.

Translating basic legislative provisions into procedure is a task of the greatest complexity. The accumulated weight of endless series of single small decisions builds steadily into policy. Particularly during the early years of any new legislative entity it is necessary to arrange for constant vigilance, steady cooperation, and frequent review of policy decisions. Only in this way can the dreams that crystallize as a legislative act evolve into a worthy organism.

One of the most unique aspects of this continent is the freedom with which the citizens of Canada and the United States share the total recreational potential. Few areas exist in other parts of the world in which two nations share so completely the recreational resources, and indeed the convertible resources, of their lands. Nevertheless, differences in ecology, population density, standard of living, ethnic background, and political organization lead to often different attitudes toward resource use and different routes to common ideals. To a considerable extent the citizens of the United States encounter first the consequences of population density and the mechanized capacity for altering the natural environment.

It is not surprising, therefore, to find that the recognition of wilderness values is more advanced in the United States than in Canada. Here the vast, almost uninhabited, northern half of the nation has maintained the illusion that wilderness is present in such abundance that no special concern is needed for its survival. It is true that there are vast areas of Canada where human impact has been negligible, where wilderness adventure can be had today almost unchanged from centuries past. Remote, inaccessible, and frequently inhospitable, much of this Arctic wilderness cannot be used by the average seeker of wilderness solitude. The requirements in terms of cost and previous experience rule out all but the hardiest and most knowledgeable. Canada needs wilderness areas close to the populous southern fifth of the country - areas of special quality managed exclusively for this category of recreation and research.

In Canada the natural resources belong to the provinces, and except for the two northern territories, federal land is almost confined to the National Parks. The pattern of wilderness development must therefore be different. Within the larger National Parks zoning for wilderness use is included in new outlines of policy, but the areas will be few and small. The provinces are the key to any successful development as they own huge tracts of land. Some of them are already experimenting with wilderness concepts. Ontario has had inviolate areas for more than fifteen years (Harkness, 1952). British Columbia has recently created some. It must be recognized, however, that the fiscal structure of Canada renders such land allocation more vulnerable to reclassification and invasion than do the patterns developing in the United States. I am not aware of any such region in Canada that cannot be altered by executive whim or cabinet order. None enjoys the protection that would require legislative debate of any change.

We in Canada are still more of a frontier nation, facing vast areas for which we have as yet found little economic use. Although Canadian art, poetry, and literature have strong wilderness flavour, they have not captured the public imagination and we lack the counterpart of the Sierra Club or Wilderness Society with their sharply focussed dedication. Because both nations share the prospects of vanishing wild lands on this continent, there is an urgency to our cooperation in a mutual endeavour to establish areas sufficient in size, quality, and diversity to take care of the scientific and recreational needs of all North Americans and their guests into the foreseeable future.

We have custody of unique biotas and habitats, we have a responsibility for their care and management, including the maintenance of adequate examples of all of them in their pristine condition. This responsibility is as yet but dimly recognized.

Today mining, flooding as a consequence of dam building, and aggressive tourism are the most serious threats to the natural, preserved areas. Outside the National Parks no part of any wilderness area is immune if someone wants to develop a mining location with its routes of access. The pertinence of this statement will be vivid to those following the present confrontation between mining interests and the protectors of Glacier Peak wilderness. It is significant that this conflict is regarded as serious enough to merit a series of letters in "Science" during the winter of 1967-68. One letter (Hunt, 1968) suggests to apply an economic yardstick "by determining if the mineral deposits are of a quality and extent sufficient to affect the national economy as distinguished from those which are not important nationally, no matter how valuable they may be to the owners."

There is precedent in Canada for the application of such a yardstick. A strategically important mineral needed during the Second World War was available only in a National Park. It was mined under government supervision with minimum disturbance, and without profit to the operators. The mine was closed as soon as the emergency was over. It may not be popular to ask why a public resource in a nationally designated protected area should be destroyed for private gain. The question, however, is a proper one.

The conflicts with dam builders are too fresh in our minds to require documentation. We in Canada are still destroying hundreds of miles of potentially magnificent recreation land by flooding forest land without clearing. The result would make strong men weep, but the immediate economic arguments prevail.

It was Leopold (1925) who remarked that, generally speaking, it is not timber, and certainly not agriculture, which is causing the decimation of wilderness areas but rather the desire to attract tourists. The events of the forty years since this was written have firmly established its truth. We can witness this even in our National Parks. A fire-protection road is bulldozed to give access to the hinterland, and because special access is allowed to some visitors who are not there for fire protection purposes, the call goes up for wider access, for road improvements and like tentacles the auto road sinuates into the wild areas with its burden of noise, fumes, and filth.

The management of wilderness, for its several stated functions, demands of the administrator a stronger definition of Objectives and greater ingenuity than perhaps any other form of land management. The quality of wilderness is an ephemeral thing best nurtured in neglect. But this is impossible if the area is to be used with adequate provision for human safety and enjoyment. Some management is essential but with so light a touch that it makes hardly a mark on the unblemished canvas of the wild.

What should be our policy toward the three great natural forces of change - fire, flood, and insects? Native man in North America made no attempt to thwart their impact. Should our attitude toward lightning fires originating in a wilderness area be different from our reaction to fire threatening invasion from outside? Certainly in boreal environments, the complete exclusion of fire will in the long Tun lead to progressive monotony in an area that owes its quality to diversity. There will be no dissent from the exclusion of man-made fire.

In a world where more people mean more restriction, freedom to enjoy wilderness with a minimum of regulation will be the ideal. The erosive forces will be the sights, sounds, and smells of civilization. By his very nature man is a changer of the environment; it will be most difficult to resist his urges to change. Campsites, portages, fords, and temporary stopping Places will be challenges for improvement.

Here certainly the integrity of the environment must be of first concern. Wood cutting, garbage disposal, and camp sanitation present practical problems that will differ from region to region. The extension of rough roads for fire protection must be carefully scrutinized. If "tailor made" cigarettes are a serious additional fire hazard, will these be tolerated in the most vulnerable areas? A litter of indestructible butts is a growing blight from the beaches of Waikiki to Pikes Peak.

Fishing for local use will probably be encouraged, but fishing for removal prohibited. Can bow hunting be regarded as a compatible use in some areas, or snaring rabbits and grouse?

Where horses are used can these be wild pastured en route, will corrals for holding them be tolerated? Trampling by large numbers of horses can be most destructive in certain environments, and wild pasturing may be intolerable. Where this is true what kind of horse feed may be carried - much of it includes weed seed foreign to the wilderness.

And what about the blathering cacophony of the transistor radio and its relatives - do these belong in the primitive scene?

We have almost no knowledge yet of the present demand for wilderness recreation. We can be certain, however, that the smaller areas and those closer to population centers will be in high demand. On these, protection from numbers will be a prime concern, and an early task - a novel one, the establishment of a graphic relationship between numbers and quality. Inevitably, reservations will be required for the opportunity to use some of the more favoured areas. We accept the necessity of reserving our place at the symphony or opera, so why not in the choicest wild lands of this continent?

We can be certain that advertising will increase demand if we desire to distribute the users more widely. Many more will get to know the restorative peace of the wilderness if they can be introduced to it by those already skilled in the art of travel in wildland. What then should be the role of guides?

In times long gone, entire villages may have moved along the rivers and trails of the hinterland, war parties and raiding groups came and went. Each moved in its own cosmos of trappings, sounds, and smells. What are our present-day views as to tolerable party size? The family group, two families together, or the guided herd that has become the pattern of some of our trail rides? I suspect that destruction of the elements that are distinctively wilderness increases as the square of group size. The children of Israel probably hold the record for wilderness use - but can you imagine the back trail! You will recall that Moses had to take to the hills to gain the peace to think.

We have recognized more functions for our wilderness areas than recreation. The scientific output will emerge but slowly over the years. Ecologists are scarce and their tasks ahead immense. Already the needed areas are being determined and set aside. Early and detailed study of each area will be desirable to provide the background against which future research will gain meaning. Time is an essential component of the processes to be studied on these ecological reserves, and researchers certainly will change. A centralized data bank to receive the field information should have a high priority. Without it the invaluable data arising from each separate study will be dissipated through as many files.

Another urgent need, largely neglected to this point, exists for wilderness research. The effective stewardship of wilderness requires information about the evolutionary trends in undisturbed wild areas of many kinds. Not only must we concern ourselves with the processes within our wild areas, but even greater importance is knowledge of the impact that our activities on surrounding areas have upon the contained wilderness. Industrial activity and human communities on areas adjacent, as well as lumbering, mining, ranching, fishing, hunting, and trapping will all have their influence on the contained wilderness. Pollutants by air and water, noise, disturbance, and the selective removal of living creatures will add their influence. The need for knowledge about the total impact of man on the natural environment is most urgent.

The wilderness story in North America is perhaps a prototype evolution for an idea in a democracy. A century has seen it pass from a romantic dream of poets to a legal social entity, moved along its course by the gathering strength of popular demand. The proponents sought no economic gain, and for all the more sophisticated reasons we now recognize in favour of maintaining large areas of undisturbed landscapes, the most powerful motive is still ethical, romantic, arid cultural.

When Thoreau said that "in wildness is the preservation of the world," I am sure he was looking beyond the canyons and wild water, the trees, the ponds, and the wild creatures. He and the many disciples who followed were looking at the symbolic meaning. As Olson (1961) has said, "I put wilderness in the realm of all cultural things. We preserve paintings, we preserve our masterpieces of music, art and literature. We treasure them. We build great buildings to protect them. We should at the same time treasure wilderness because wilderness has the same impact on the human mind and spirit".... "It seems to me that our real problem in fighting for wilderness is to look at it as part of our culture and as worthy of preserving as any other facet of our culture."

In half of North America we are now beyond the dream stage. Wilderness is now a legal entity and we face next the even more difficult task of designing the working principles that will govern its management and perhaps even its survival. Very possibly wilderness may be in as much danger from its friends as it has been from its enemies, of its being trampled in the stampede of users. Evolution is never finished and this applies equally to ideas as to organisms. Those that have laboured so hard to reach the present stage in our wilderness concepts have plenty of scope for continuing dedication and ingenuity.


Anonymous. 1965. Complete text of the Wilderness Act. The Living Wilder-ness. 86:31-34.

Catlin, G. 1926. North American Indians. 1. Edinburgh: John Grant, 298 pp.

Crisler, Lois. 1958. Arctic wild. New York: Harper and Bros., 301 pp.

Darling, F. and J. P. Milton ed. 1966. Future environments of North America. New York: The Natural History Press, Garden City, 767 pp.

Davidson, P., F. G. Adams, and J. Seneca. 1966. The social value of water recreation facilities resulting from an improvement in water quality: The Delaware Estuary. (In) Kneese, A. V. and S. C. Smith ed. Water Research. Baltimore.

Harkness, H. J. K. 1952. Zoning needs for wilderness. The Living Wilderness 40:23-25.

Hunt, Charles B. 1968. Copper deposit at Glacier Peak. Science 159 (3820): 1148-85.

Krutilla, J. V. 1967. Conservation reconsidered. Resources for the Future, Inc., Amer. Econ. Rev. Sept, pp. 777-86.

Leopold, A. 1925. Wilderness as a form of land use. Jour. of Land and Public Utility Econ. 1: 398-404.

1941. Wilderness as a land laboratory, Living Wilderness 6: 3.

1966. A Sand County Almanac. New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 269 pp.

McAdoo, W. 1886. Congressional Record, 49th Congress, 2nd Session. 18: 94 and 152-54-.

Nash, R. 1967. Wilderness and the American mind. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 256 pp.

Olson, S. F. 1961. The spiritual aspects of wilderness. [In] Wilderness, America's Living Heritage. Sierra Club, San Francisco, pp. 16-25, 38.

Shelford, V. E. 1920. Preserves of natural conditions. Trans. Ill. Star Acad. Sci. 13:37-58-.

Spurr, S. H. 1963. The value of wilderness to science. [In] Tomorrow's Wilder-ness. Sierra Club, San Francisco, pp. 59-75.

1966. Wilderness management. Sixth Horace M. Albright Conservation Lectureship. Univ. Calif. School of Forestry, Berkeley, pp. 1-14

Sumner, L. 1956. Your stake in Alaska's wildlife and wilderness. Sierra Club Bul. pp. 1-17-

Thoreau, H. 1858. Maine woods writings. Atlantic Monthly 3: 208.

Tocqueville, A. de. 1953. Democracy in America. Phillips Bradley ed. New York: Alfred Knopf, Vol 11, p. 47.

Ullman, A. 1960. Multiple use and the proposed wilderness preservation sys-tem. The Living Wilderness 71:30-33.

Introducing: Ian McTaggart Cowan

Few of us could suddenly conceive of a new creature "with the neck of a giraffe and the digestive tract of a spruce bud worm" busily converting the extensive spruce foliage of the northern forests into protein consumable by man. In a whimsical aside to his presentation of this Albright Lecture, Ian McTaggart Cowan conjured up just such a vision. The potentialities of his mind, like those of the reservoir of DNA to which he was referring, seem endless.

As Dean of the Faculty of Graduate Studies at the University of British Columbia, Ian Cowan is an educator and administrator. He is also a wildlife biologist of major attainments, a man wholly at home in the wilderness, and an individual who can impart his own enthusiasm for his field to widely varying audiences.

Dean Cowan graduated from the University of British Columbia in 1932. He came to Berkeley for graduate studies leading to the Ph.D. in Zoology from the University of California in 1935. He then returned to British Columbia to serve as a biologist in the Provincial Museum. In 1940 he was appointed as assistant professor in the Department of Zoology, University of British Columbia. Promoted to professor of zoology in 1945, he served as head of the department from 1953 to 1964. In 1964 he was advanced to his present post as Dean of Graduate Studies. While carrying these greatly expanded responsibilities, he has held to his own field, continuing to teach a course in wildlife biology and to guide the research of a group of doctoral candidates.

His interests in large mammals and ecology led him to extensive field studies in the Canadian Arctic, throughout British Columbia, in the Rocky Mountains National Parks, and in Western Mexico, Scotland, Finland, and certain of the Pacific Islands. These studies in turn have led to some one hundred fifty publications, including books on the birds and on the mammals of British Columbia. He has also developed several extensive television and radio series.

His awards and distinctions are a measure of his interests and energy. He is a fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a fellow of the California Academy of Sciences, a fellow and past president of the Arctic Institute of North America, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a past president of the Biological Council of Canada, a director of the Canadian Audubon Society, and a past member of the executive board of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. His record of public service includes substantial periods as a member of the National Research Council of Canada, a member of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada, a member of the City of Vancouver Museums Board, and a member of the advisory committee of the Secretary of Interior of the United States.

As an ecologist, Dean Cowan integrates knowledge in his own field of study. As an individual, he integrates a far wider range of knowledge in terms of his many interests. In this Albright Lecture, he brings both breadth and focus to his theme. His is not a voice in the wilderness, but a voice for the wilderness.