Wilderness Preservation according to J. Baird Callicott

Callicott claims that there are two debates about the value of wilderness. The first being that between wilderness preservation and “jobs”, and the other is about the value of the wilderness ideal to the conservation of biological diversity. Caliccot argues for the second debate by reexamining the received wilderness idea. The received wilderness idea claims that wilderness is “an area where the earth and its community life are untrammeled by man, where man is a visitor who does not remain.” He criticizes the concept of wilderness, not the areas themselves. HE then breaks his arguments down into different levels.


1. Practical Level
a. Emphasized wilderness as satisfying human aesthetic, psychological and spiritual needs.
b. Originally regarded as a psycho-spiritual resource.
c. The National Parks they protected were mostly rock and ice that were great for scenery and solitude, but not great for biological conservation.
2. Political Level
a. Takes a defensive strategy which is a losing strategy.
b. The development permitted zones exceed the development excluded zones in both number and size.
c. Big wilderness is still threatened by logging, hydropower schemes, oil exploration and other industrial intrusions and the threats posed by global warming and by exposure it sharply increased levels of ultraviolet radiation.
3. International Level
a. The American Wilderness idea is NOT a universalizable approach to conservation.
i. Therefore we need one that is universalizable.
b. American style national parks sometimes had tragic consequences. In Uganda, the Ik people of the remote Kidepo Valley were displaced from their hunter gather lifestyles and homeland in order to create a national park.
4. Historical Level
a. Views wilderness as an ecocentric concept.
b. When the British came to the “new world” they thought they had come to legit wilderness, yet did not take into account that the Indians had turned this so called wilderness into space that was livable.
c. Without Indian burning to manage their lands, many paleo-ecologists believe that the open prairies of North and South America would not have existed.
i. It would have been overgrown with brush, the North American forests would not have been as rich and diverse without Indians pyrotechnology.
d. Europeans inadvertently created the New World wilderness conditions by utterly devastating biological warfare on the aboriginal inhabitant or North and South America.
5. Theoretical Ecology Level
a. Ecosystems were once thought of to remain stable as long as they were not disturbed.
i. Climax communities would form if they were disturbed but eventually returned to their original state.
b. Ecosystems though are constantly changing even without human interference.
c. Nature has an inherent dynamism that we must not alter, yet we do when trying to “preserve” or control an environment.
6. Philosophical Level
a. Man exists apart from nature as the pre-Darwanism idea perpetuates.
b. Encountering any human artifact in the wilderness setting spoils the experience of pristine nature for purists.
c. We are mere accidents of natural selection, we are one of five living species of great ape, so we are therefore part of nature and have a rightful place and role in nature no less then any creature “in principal.”

Callicot points out that most of what we do in and to nature is very destructive and then reiterates that all species can be destructive to nature in their own ways. According to him, the greatest value of the Wilderness Act of 1964 is an ethical one. → It acknowledges a human commitment to humility, forbearance and restraint.

What he concludes after laying out the different levels and some view on the ethics of the environment, he concludes that the best plan of attack is to adopt the concept of Biosphere Reserves.

Biosphere Reserves

Was a concept developed in Europe that focused on the tropics and is backed by the United Nations, which gives it genuine international status. These reserves are selected on the basis of ecological qualities. They preserve the entire spectrum of indigenous species, invertebrates as well as vertebrates, plants as well as animals. Their main idea is to have a provision for compatible human residence and economic activity in and around the reserves. They want to promote a so called sustainable livelihood. It supports the belief that urban sprawl should be controlled by better planning and stricter zoning. Then to avoid the tragedy of the commons which is such an obvious threat is only through cooperation. These reserves offer a transition zone that other zones and levels do not. Biosphere reserves make sense for preservation, conservation and sustainability.

Light, Andrew, and Holmes Rolston. "A Critique of and an Alternative to the Wilderness Idea." Environmental Ethics an Anthology. By Baird J. Callicott. Malden, MA: Blackwell Pub., 2003. 437-43. Print.

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