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HOME arrow BLOG arrow Wilderness in the 21st Century - A Nightmare Scenario
Wilderness in the 21st Century - A Nightmare Scenario
Written by Scott Silver   
Tuesday, 24 March 2009

I was recently asked to review an unpublished article which delved into the importance of fostering, preserving and garnering increased support for the Wilderness Ethic enshrined within the 1964 Wilderness Act. I look forward to reading that excellent article in print.
In the meanwhile, I'd like to draw attention to a very different and disturbing article published in 2000 which enumerates the dramatic shift now taking place with respect to the Wilderness Ethic. Rather than fostering, preserving and garnering support for the ORIGINAL Wilderness Ethic, these authors describe a radically altered Ethic -- one that bears no relationship to the Wilderness Act or to the purposes for which the enduring resource of Wilderness was originally established. The piece, which I view as presenting an extremely probable future, is titled "Wilderness in the 21st Century".  It could just as appropriately been titled, "The End of Wilderness."
Selected text appears below with a link to the original and complete version.


--- begin quoted ---


International Journal of Wilderness AUGUST 2000 . VOLUME 6, NUMBER 2


Demographic shifts forecast that the U.S. population will double within the next 100 years and that immigration will account for a large portion of it. Americans, Asians, Hispanics, and others who were previously unaware of wilderness, as well as international recreationists, will account for a larger portion of wilderness users. These new users will bring epistemologies that are incongruent with the "American Wilderness Ethic" that was originally used to found the Wilderness Preservation System. Increased cultural pluralism will result in an expanded Wilderness Ethic. While "purists" will maintain the Wilderness Ethic, new users will adapt the ethic to be congruent with their epistemologies. New user groups with varying demands will attempt to (1) pressure administrators to ease wilderness regulations (2) de-list some existing wilderness areas, and (3) enact less rigorous regulations in future areas added to the system.

The perceptions and desires of wilderness users will change considerably over the next 100 years. Users will demand more efficient use of their limited time when visiting wilderness and more intensive management of resources to facilitate that use, resulting in easier accessibility and less effort and self-reliance.

Users will maximize leisure time through extensive trip-planning methods, including computer/Internet sources, guidebooks, videos, and a fast-expanding telecommunications network of wilderness information. Wilderness trip planning, and actual trips, may take on the efficiency of "pseudo AAA-planned for you" visits in the future. The decrease in leisure time, increase in wilderness information, and accessibility will interact resulting in users opting for more structured wilderness adventures.

Wilderness users will increasingly rely on outfitters, guides, and outdoor education services to facilitate ecotourism and wilderness adventures. Facilitated wilderness adventures that are "sold" using photographs, detailed accounts of what will be encountered, and other marketing techniques will be a significant factor altering the character of the traditional wilderness experience.

Senior citizens, day users, families, and organized groups will find these aided, userfriendly wilderness trips desirable. These "wilderness clients" will find it difficult to differentiate between experiences provided by outfitters and guides and more traditional, self-reliant wilderness experiences. Users engaging in this type of wilderness recreation will have high and specific expectations of what they will receive for their money.

More wilderness users desire to enhance the "wild" in wilderness by engaging in high-adventure, high-risk activities. These adrenaline related activities ... may be as dominant in the next 100 years as backpacking solitude is today.

In conclusion, the density and diversity of wilderness use will change during the next 100 years. The challenge for wilderness managers and policymakers will be to meet the needs of these new users, while ensuring the health and protection of wildlands.

Comments (1) >>

Robert Brooks said:

  You've done it to yourselves, I'm afraid. Starting with the basic contradiction of tolerating cattle grazing and horse outfitting, and ending with the promulgation of an ethic so puritanical only a few can understand and truly embrace it, because, at root, it is not understandable.

A bicycle is healthy, quiet, and as leave-no-trace, at least nearly so, as a hiker's boot, much more so than a horse, yet the opposition of any compromise regarding mountain bike use in any current or proposed wilderness is vociferous and total.

Overreaching, grasping for more and more closed lands, lying to the public that "roadless" means no road was ever there, when it really means you pretend the roads were never there and seek to erase them...too many of us have caught on, and now oppose you.

Your polarization and extremism is marginalizing your movement.
October 19, 2009
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Last Updated ( Tuesday, 24 March 2009 )

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