Wilderness  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

Wilderness or wildlands (usually in the plural), are natural environments on Earth that have not been significantly modified by human activity or any nonurbanized land not under extensive agricultural cultivation. The term has traditionally referred to terrestrial environments, though growing attention is being placed on marine wilderness. Recent maps of wilderness suggest it covers roughly one quarter of Earth's terrestrial surface, but is being rapidly degraded by human activity. Even less wilderness remains in the ocean, with only 13.2% free from intense human activity.

Some governments establish protection for wilderness areas by law to not only preserve what already exists, but also to promote and advance a natural expression and development. These can be set up in preserves, conservation preserves, national forests, national parks and even in urban areas along rivers, gulches or otherwise undeveloped areas. Often these areas are considered important for the survival of certain species, biodiversity, ecological studies, conservation, solitude and recreation. They may also preserve historic genetic traits and provide habitat for wild flora and fauna that may be difficult to recreate in zoos, arboretums or laboratories.

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History

Ancient times and Middle Ages

Looked at through the lens of the visual arts, nature and wildness have been important subjects in various epochs of world history. An early tradition of landscape art occurred in the Tang Dynasty (618-907). The tradition of representing nature as it is became one of the aims of Chinese painting and was a significant influence in Asian art. Artists in the tradition of Shan shui (lit. mountain-water-picture), learned to depict mountains and rivers "from the perspective of nature as a whole and on the basis of their understanding of the laws of nature… as if seen through the eyes of a bird." In the 13th century, Shih Erh Chi recommended avoiding painting "scenes lacking any places made inaccessible by nature."

For most of human history, the greater part of the Earth's terrain was wilderness, and human attention was concentrated on settled areas. The first known laws to protect parts of nature date back to the Babylonian Empire and Chinese Empire. Ashoka, the Great Mauryan King, defined the first laws in the world to protect flora and fauna in Edicts of Ashoka around 3rd Century B.C. In the Middle Ages, the Kings of England initiated one of the world's first conscious efforts to protect natural areas. They were motivated by a desire to be able to hunt wild animals in private hunting preserves rather than a desire to protect wilderness. Nevertheless, in order to have animals to hunt they would have to protect wildlife from subsistence hunting and the land from villagers gathering firewood. Similar measures were introduced in other European countries.

19th century to present

The idea of wilderness having intrinsic value emerged in the Western world in the 19th century. British artists John Constable and J. M. W. Turner turned their attention to capturing the beauty of the natural world in their paintings. Prior to that, paintings had been primarily of religious scenes or of human beings. William Wordsworth's poetry described the wonder of the natural world, which had formerly been viewed as a threatening place. Increasingly the valuing of nature became an aspect of Western culture.

By the mid-19th century, in Germany, "Scientific Conservation," as it was called, advocated "the efficient utilization of natural resources through the application of science and technology." Concepts of forest management based on the German approach were applied in other parts of the world, but with varying degrees of success. Over the course of the 19th century wilderness became viewed not as a place to fear but a place to enjoy and protect, hence came the conservation movement in the latter half of the 19th century. Rivers were rafted and mountains were climbed solely for the sake of recreation, not to determine their geographical context.

In 1861, following an intense lobbying by artists (painters), the French Waters and Forests Military Agency set an « artistic reserve » in Fontainebleau State Forest. With a total of 1 097 hectares, it is known to be the first World nature reserve.

Global conservation became an issue at the time of the dissolution of the British Empire in Africa in the late 1940s. The British established great wildlife preserves there. As before, this interest in conservation had an economic motive: in this case, big game hunting. Nevertheless, this led to growing recognition in the 1950s and the early 1960s of the need to protect large spaces for wildlife conservation worldwide. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF), founded in 1961, grew to be one of the largest conservation organizations in the world.

Early conservationists advocated the creation of a legal mechanism by which boundaries could be set on human activities in order to preserve natural and unique lands for the enjoyment and use of future generations. This profound shift in wilderness thought reached a pinnacle in the US with the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, which allowed for parts of U.S. National Forests to be designated as "wilderness preserves". Similar acts, such as the 1975 Eastern Wilderness Areas Act, followed.

Nevertheless, initiatives for wilderness conservation continue to increase. There are a growing number of projects to protect tropical rainforests through conservation initiatives. There are also large-scale projects to conserve wilderness regions, such as Canada's Boreal Forest Conservation Framework. The Framework calls for conservation of 50 percent of the 6,000,000 square kilometres of boreal forest in Canada's north. In addition to the World Wildlife Fund, organizations such as the Wildlife Conservation Society, the WILD Foundation, The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, The Wilderness Society (United States) and many others are active in such conservation efforts.

The 21st century has seen another slight shift in wilderness thought and theory. It is now understood that simply drawing lines around a piece of land and declaring it a wilderness does not necessarily make it a wilderness. All landscapes are intricately connected and what happens outside a wilderness certainly affects what happens inside it. For example, air pollution from Los Angeles and the California Central Valley affects Kern Canyon and Sequoia National Park. The national park has miles of "wilderness" but the air is filled with pollution from the valley. This gives rise to the paradox of what a wilderness really is; a key issue in 21st century wilderness thought.

National parks

The creation of National Parks, beginning in the 19th century, preserved some especially attractive and notable areas, but the pursuits of commerce, lifestyle, and recreation combined with increases in human population have continued to result in human modification of relatively untouched areas. Such human activity often negatively impacts native flora and fauna. As such, to better protect critical habitats and preserve low-impact recreational opportunities, legal concepts of "wilderness" were established in many countries, beginning with the United States (see below).

The first National Park was Yellowstone, which was signed into law by U.S. President Ulysses S. Grant on 1 March 1872. The Act of Dedication declared Yellowstone a land "hereby reserved and withdrawn from settlement, occupancy, or sale under the laws of the United States, and dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people."

The world's second national park, the Royal National Park, located just 32 km to the south of Sydney, Australia, was established in 1879.

The U.S. concept of national parks soon caught on in Canada, which created Banff National Park in 1885, at the same time as the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway was being built. The creation of this and other parks showed a growing appreciation of wild nature, but also an economic reality. The railways wanted to entice people to travel west. Parks such as Banff and Yellowstone gained favor as the railroads advertised travel to "the great wild spaces" of North America. When outdoorsman Teddy Roosevelt became president of the United States, he began to enlarge the U.S. National Parks system, and established the National Forest system.

By the 1920s, travel across North America by train to experience the "wilderness" (often viewing it only through windows) had become very popular. This led to the commercialization of some of Canada's National Parks with the building of great hotels such as the Banff Springs Hotel and Chateau Lake Louise.

Despite their similar name, national parks in England and Wales are quite different from national parks in many other countries. Unlike most other countries, in England and Wales, designation as a national park may include substantial settlements and human land uses which are often integral parts of the landscape, and land within a national park remains largely in private ownership. Each park is operated by its own national park authority.

Conservation and preservation in 20th century United States

By the later 19th century it had become clear that in many countries wild areas had either disappeared or were in danger of disappearing. This realization gave rise to the conservation movement in the United States, partly through the efforts of writers and activists such as John Burroughs, Aldo Leopold, and John Muir, and politicians such as U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt.

The idea of protecting nature for nature's sake began to gain more recognition in the 1930s with American writers like Aldo Leopold, calling for a "land ethic" and urging wilderness protection. It had become increasingly clear that wild spaces were disappearing rapidly and that decisive action was needed to save them. Wilderness preservation is central to deep ecology; a philosophy that believes in an inherent worth of all living beings, regardless of their instrumental utility to human needs.

Two different groups had emerged within the US environmental movement by the early 20th century: the conservationists and the preservationists. The initial consensus among conservationists was split into "utilitarian conservationists" later to be referred to as conservationists, and "aesthetic conservationists" or preservationists. The main representative for the former was Gifford Pinchot, first Chief of the United States Forest Service, and they focused on the proper use of nature, whereas the preservationists sought the protection of nature from use. Put another way, conservation sought to regulate human use while preservation sought to eliminate human impact altogether. The management of US public lands during the years 1960s and 70s reflected these dual visions, with conservationists dominating the Forest Service, and preservationists the Park Service

See also




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Wilderness" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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