Wilderness imperatives and untrammeled nature

Sandra Zellmer

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations

Abstract

Wilderness is often considered the epitome of naturalness - what nature ought to be. Indeed, in many ways, society, through its environmental laws, has prioritized the protection of wilderness over other areas of nature and other aspects of naturalness. We give our wilderness areas iconic names, like Delirium, Desolation, Devil’s Backbone, River of No Return, and Superstition, and we idealize them and treat them as something utterly unique and apart from our technology-ridden daily lives. The nation’s preeminent wilderness statute, the Wilderness Act of 1964, is credited with significant preservation achievements. Over the years, the Act has remained remarkably robust, with few legislative revisions. The Act is so well loved that, as Professor Rodgers notes, it is “virtually repeal-proof.” During almost every congressional session since 1964, new wilderness areas have been added to the system or existing areas have been expanded. But are wilderness areas really <italic>natural</italic>? And if they are something other than natural, does that diminish their value to society and to environmental law? As we grapple with these questions, a related issue comes to mind. By prioritizing “fenced-off” remote wilderness areas through stringent legal restrictions, are we unintentionally diminishing the idea of nature and short-changing a more holistic relationship between humans and nature, wherever we might encounter it? Historian William Cronon argues that the “mythicmeanings attached to wilderness” - and the perception that humans are apart from nature - “prevent realization of [other] important environmental values.” If this is true, must the “wooly-headed, tree-hugging worldview… which has long idealized wilderness (as <italic>true nature</italic>) while simultaneously designating humanity as the scourge of the planet, ‘die so that something new can live,’” as Ted Nordhaus andMichael Shellenberger posited in <italic>The Death of Environmentalism</italic>?

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationEnvironmental Law and Contrasting Ideas of Nature
Subtitle of host publicationA Constructivist Approach
PublisherCambridge University Press
Pages179-199
Number of pages21
ISBN (Electronic)9781139519762
ISBN (Print)9781107033474
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jan 1 2012

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ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Social Sciences(all)

Cite this

Zellmer, S. (2012). Wilderness imperatives and untrammeled nature. In Environmental Law and Contrasting Ideas of Nature: A Constructivist Approach (pp. 179-199). Cambridge University Press. https://doi.org/10.1017/CBO9781139519762.011