J. Baird Callicott

What “Wilderness” in Frontier Ecosystems?


1.       Historical account of changing notions of wilderness and rationale for wilderness preservation

2.       Wilderness a hotly contested term

          a.       How we understand it “colors” how we think about the landscape referred to

          b.       Not so much like “woman” as like ‘chick’ or ‘lady’


3.       One: 17th century Puritan American colonists wilderness an embodiment of evil

          a.       Described the place they had come to live as “wilderness”

          b.       It was terrifying, hideous and howling

          c.       Full of vicious animals and even more vicious humans (who worshiped Satan)

          d.       Witches went into the woods


          e.       They tamed the wilderness: built towns, replaced forests with fields, killed off large carnivores; sickened, murdered and drove away the Indians


4.       Two: Transcendental Recreation-- Wilderness preserved for aesthetic and spiritual recreation

          a.       Jonathan Edwards (18th century Puritan theologian)

                    i.        Edenic nature was pure, divine and beautiful and it could be violated by lasting physical presence of essentially depraved man

                    ii.       Biologically and ethnically cleansed margins of towns and farms began to look like Eden

                    iii.      Found images of the divine in God’s creation (not in the towns and cities)

                    iv.      Human nature was totally depraved, born of original sin

                    v.       Like man banished from Eden after the fall, depraved sin-soaked humanity in Eden (wild nature) would sully and destroy its pristine, virginal character

          b.       Ralph Waldo Emerson, writer, Unitarian preacher, transcendentalist (=reach God by individual intuition, transcending physical and not by Church doctrine)

                    i.        True solitude can only be achieved in wilderness

                    ii.       Transcendental experience in wilderness: Egoism vanishes, one becomes nothing, currents of Universal Being circulate through one, and become part and particle of God.


                    iii.      Emerson’s” metaphysical vanishing act’ is analogous to how the modern “wilderness” traveler can be in nature w/o defiling its “virginal character.”

                              (1)     See pp. 238, Plumwood quote

                              (2)     But wilderness hiking by the few does not destroy wilderness’ virginal character as would many other activities


          c.       Henry David Thoreau and John Muir are squarely in this tradition

          d.       Preserve wilderness for transcendental wilderness recreation (solitude, aesthetic and spiritual experience)


          e.       This use of wilderness is “recreation”

                    i.        Not crass recreation, but solitarily, unobtrusive, spiritual kind of recreation

                    ii.       Critique: If one goes to nature for a religious purpose, if nature is one’s cathedral, and if this is a recreational use of nature, then so too is a church

                                         (a)     But this is not plausible

                                         (b)     So spiritual use of nature is not recreational


5.       Three: Wilderness preserved to preserve the frontier-forged American Character (and Institutions)–woodcraft-hook-and-bullet recreation

          a.       Preserve wilderness for hunting, fishing and primitive travel in order to preserve allegedly unique American character and institutions

          b.       Roosevelt and Leopold


          c.       Closing of American frontier led to Frederic Jackson’s Turner’s “Frontier Thesis”

                    i.        End of 1800s, remaining free Indians conquered, bison herds reduced to near extinction, transcontinental railroads completed

                    ii.       Turner’s “Frontier Forged American Character” thesis

                              (1)      What made American’s American, gave us our unique American character, was multi-generational interaction of original European people/culture with freedom and challenges of westward-advancing frontier

                              (2)     Frontier challenges (says Turner) made us: democratic, individualist, self-reliant, anti-government control, even anti-social, produced an “inventive turn of mind, quick to find solutions, not artistic but able to produce great results”

                              (3)     For Leopold life in wilderness (pioneers’ life) made Americans: vigorous individuals, intellectual curiosity aimed at practical ends, lack of subservience to stiff social forms, intolerance of drones


          d.       Preserve wilderness as a way to perpetuate this American character and related institutions

                    i.        By a type of wilderness recreation

          e.       Use of wilderness required: Woodcraft wilderness recreation (or hook-and-bullet wilderness recreation)

                    i.        “Woodcraft” involves art of living off the land using only simple tools, hunting and gathering, crude shelters

                    ii.       A use that is hard on wilderness areas

          f.       This recreational use not compatible with transcendental wilderness recreation

                    i.        So Leopold suggested National Parks for Transcendental wilderness recreation and National Forests for Woodcraft-hook and bullet recreation

                    ii.       Are the two really not compatible?


          g.       Callicott later claims this preserving American national character rationale is an “obnoxiously racist and nationalistic notion”


          h.       Callicott argues that

          i.        Theodore Roosevelt took Turner’s frontier-forged American character idea and made it more racist, masculine, bellicose and imperialistic

                    i.        Industry and thrift of the nordic pioneers versus indolence and squalor of the savages

                    ii.       Strenuous living in wilderness promoted an essential manliness in the nation/individual, that fought the over civilizing trend, flabbiness and slothful ease of city life


6.       In the American mind, recreation is what the wilderness is for

          a.       Even though late 20th century recreational use has changed toward a high-tech, take only photos leave only footprints model

          b.       Still recreation, still “wilderness playgrounds”

          c.       And its anthropocentric

          d.       Wilderness act of 1964 institutionalized this anthropocentric recreation view of the purpose of wilderness

          e.       Most designated wilderness areas selected to fit one of two types (or both) of recreation goals

                    i.        Either place of spiritually inspiring scenic beauty

                    ii.       Or place of travel where have chance of physical challenges that can be overcome w/o too much hardship or danger


          f.       Explains why some ecosystem types under represented in designated wilderness: grasslands, wetlands, scrub lands


7.       Is this a fair account of the purpose of designated wilderness in America?

          a.       Wilderness Act of 1964: “Wilderness is a place untrammeled by man; where man is a visitor who does not remain”


8.       20TH Century ecologists conceived very different idea of wilderness


9.       Ecological wilderness idea”

10.     Scientific wilderness preservationism: Preserve representative ecosystems, free from human disturbance, as objects of ecological study

11.     Preserve wilderness areas not for recreation but for

          a.       Preserving representative types of ecosystems

                    i.        Leopold’s motive was as a place to observe and learn about how healthy ecosystems functioned and thus use that knowledge to keep human used ecosystems healthy

          b.       Habitat for threatened species of wildlife


12.     Callicott sets up the late 20th century wilderness debate as one between


          a.       Wilderness as biological reserve (with great self-restraint on part of wilderness community)


          b.       Wilderness for human recreation (compromise the biological integrity of wilderness, and command popular popularity)


          c.       Claims wilderness advocacy community and hikers have chosen recreation path

          d.       “By end of 20th century, ecological wilderness idea had been virtually forgotten”

13.     This ignores that bio-reserve goal is compatible with transcendental spiritual and aesthetic “recreation”

          a.       Not incompatible with all recreation, only with woodcraft, bullet, and hook recreation


14.     Should we use the ecological wilderness idea to guide conservation of international frontier ecosystems like those at southern tip of South America?

          a.       Yes and no

15.     Yes: Because of mass extinction event humans are causing must consider remaining wild-lands around the globe for designation as biodiversity reserves (purpose biological conservation)

          a.       Protect with strict limits on visitation rights (numbers of visitors, time they stay, places they go, what they may do)

          b.       Perhaps some transcendental wilderness recreation (today morphed into the high tech low impact leave no trace adventure recreation) can be permitted in bio-reserves

          c.       Forget preserve American character rationale: it’s racist and nationalistic


16.     No:

          a.       Must integrate the new ecological paradigm (p. 248)

          b.       Must realize that simply limiting human visitation is not enough to protect them

                    i.        Invasive species management is necessary

                    ii.       International air and water pollution must be controlled

                    iii.      Climate change effects must be addressed and mitigated

          c.       Acknowledge native peoples belong in them:

                    i.        Must understand these places as home to indigenous people/cultures that shaped these places

                    ii.       These bio reserves must be managed in consultation with indigenous populations

          d.       Get rid of the historically ignorant idea that wilderness areas never had people in them for this ignores that native peoples lived and modified these landscapes for millennia

                    i.        False idea that American continent was uninhabited wilderness when European settlers came

          e.       Stop creating “conservation refugees”

                    i.        Stop project of kicking out native peoples when bioreserves or wildernesses or national parks are formed around the world

                    ii.       There presence is required since these ecosystems have been influenced by them for a long time.