A tract of land, or a region, uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings, whether a forest or a wide, barren plain; a wild; a waste; a desert; a pathless waste of any kind. [1913 Webster] The wat'ry wilderness yields no supply. --Waller. [1913 Webster]
A disorderly or neglected place. --Cowper. [1913 Webster]
Quality or state of being wild; wildness. [Obs.] [1913 Webster] These paths and bowers doubt not but our joint hands. Will keep from wilderness with ease. --Milton. [1913 Webster]
Word Netwilderness n : a wild and uninhabited area [syn: wild]
Moby ThesaurusArabia Deserta, Chinese puzzle, Death Valley, Gordian knot, Lebensraum, Rube Goldberg contraption, Sahara, air space, back country, back of beyond, backcountry, backlands, backwoods, barren, barren land, barrens, boondock, boondocks, borderland, brush, bush, bush country, bushveld, can of worms, clear space, clearance, clearing, complex, desert, desolation, distant prospect, dust bowl, empty view, forests, frontier, glade, heath, hinterland, howling wilderness, jungle, karroo, knot, labyrinth, living space, lunar landscape, lunar waste, maze, meander, mesh, mess, open country, open space, outback, outpost, perplex, plain, prairie, ravel, salt flat, snafu, snake pit, snarl, steppe, tangle, tangled skein, terrain, territory, the bush, timbers, uninhabited region, up-country, virgin land, virgin territory, waste, wasteland, weary waste, webwork, wheels within wheels, wide-open spaces, wild, wild West, wildness, wilds, woodlands, woods
EtymologyEither from unattested *|wilddēornes (cognate with Dutch wildernis, German Wildernis), or from Old English wilddeoren + -nes.
- (UK) /ˈwɪldənɪs/
- (US) /ˈwɪldəɻnəs/
Wilderness is generally defined as a natural environment on Earth that has not been modified by human activity. Wilderness areas are considered important for ecological study, conservation, solitude, and recreation. Wilderness is deeply valued for cultural, spiritual, moral and aesthetic reasons as well, some nature writers believe wilderness is vital for the human spirit and creativity.
The word, "wilderness", derives from the notion of "wildness"; in other words that which is not controllable by humans. The word's etymology is from the Old English wildeornes, which in turn derives from wildeor meaning wild beast (wild + deor = beast, deer) (The Collins English Dictionary, 2000). From this point of view, it is the wildness of a place that makes it a wilderness. The mere presence or activity of people does not disqualify an area from being "wilderness." Many ecosystems that are, or have been, inhabited or influenced by activities of people may still be considered "wild." This way of looking at wilderness includes areas within which natural processes operate without human interference.
Conceptions of wildernessLooked 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."
The idea of wilderness having intrinsic value emerged in the Western world in the 1800s. British artists John Constable and JMW 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.
Wilderness was traditionally viewed as being a place to fear and avoid. It was the place where monsters and the unknown existed. Over the course of the 19th century wilderness became to be 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 contexture. This was a profound shift in wilderness thought. It reached a pinnacle in the US in the 1960s with the passage of the Wilderness Act of 1964, that allowed for parts of U.S. National Forests to be designated as "wilderness preserves."
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, pollution from Los Angeles and the California Central Valley smog up Kern Canyon and Seqouia National Park. The national park has miles of "wilderness" but the air is filled with pollution from the valley. This then brings us to the paradox of what a wilderness really is, which is precisely the issue in 21st century wilderness thought.
CriticismThe American concept of wilderness has been criticised by some nature writers. For example, William Cronon writes that what he calls a wilderness ethic or cult may "teach us to be dismissive or even contemptuous of such humble places and experiences", and that "wilderness tends to privilege some parts of nature at the expense of others", using as an example "the mighty canyon more inspiring than the humble marsh." This is most clearly visible with the fact that nearly all U.S. National Parks preserve spectacular canyons and mountains, and it wasn't until the 1940s that a swamp became a national park—the Everglades. In the mid-1900s national parks started to protect biodiversity, not simply attractive scenery. To date, there is no grassland national park in the United States, even though grasslands covered more than a one third of the landscape before the arrival of Europeans.
Cronon also believes the passion to save wilderness "poses a serious threat to responsible environmentalism" and writes that it allows people to "give ourselves permission to evade responsibility for the lives we actually lead....to the extent that we live in an urban-industrial civilization" but at the same time pretend to ourselves that our real home is in the wilderness," Another challenge to the conventional notion of wilderness comes from Robert Winkler in his book, Going Wild: Adventures with Birds in the Suburban Wilderness. “On walks in the unpeopled parts of the suburbs," Winkler writes, "I’ve witnessed the same wild creatures, struggles for survival, and natural beauty that we associate with true wilderness.”
History of wilderness preservation
Awareness of wild spacesFor most of human history, the greater part of the Earth's terrain was wilderness, and human attention was concentrated in settled areas. The first known laws to protect parts of nature date back to Babylonian Empire and Chinese Emipre. 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.
By the latter 19th century it had become clear that in many countries wild areas had either disappeared or were in danger of disappearing. This realisation gave rise to the conservation movement in the USA, partly through the efforts of writers and activists such as John Burroughs and John Muir, and politicians such as U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt.
National parksThe 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, established in 1872. 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. The world's second national park, the Royal National Park, was established in 1879, just 25 km to the south of Sydney, Australia.
This U.S. concept of national parks soon caught on in Canada, which created Banff National Park in the 1880s, at the same time as the transcontinental Canadian Pacific Railway was being built. 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. In addition to the World Wildlife Fund, organizations such as The Nature Conservancy, Conservation International, The Wilderness Society (United States), The WILD Foundation and many others are active in such conservation efforts.
Wilderness designationsThe United States was the first country to officially designate land as "wilderness" through the Wilderness Act of 1964. Wilderness designation helps preserve the natural state of the land and protect flora and fauna by prohibiting development and providing for non-motorized recreation. Recreation and development in Alaskan wilderness is often less restrictive.
Wilderness designations are granted by an Act of Congress for Federal land that retains a "primeval character" and that has no human habitation or development. Approximately 100 million acres (400,000 km²) are designated as wilderness in the United States. This accounts for 4.71% of the total land of the country; however, 54% of wilderness is in Alaska, and only 2.58% of the continental United States is designated as wilderness.
There are 680 separate wilderness designations in the United States, from Florida's Pelican Island at 5 acres to Alaska's Wrangell-Saint Elias at 9,078,675 acres (36,740 km²).
Current estimates of wildernessAccording to a major study, Wilderness: Earth's Last Wild Places, carried out by Conservation International, 46% of the world's land mass is wilderness. For purposes of this report, "wilderness" was defined as an area that "has 70 percent or more of its original vegetation intact, covers at least 10,000 square kilometers (3,861 square miles) and must have fewer than five people per square kilometer." However, an IUCN/UNEP report published in 2003, found that only 10.9% of the world's land mass is currently a Category 1 Protected Area, that is, either a strict nature reserve (5.5%) or protected wilderness (5.4%). Such areas remain relatively untouched by humans. Of course, there are large tracts of lands in National Parks and other protected areas that would also qualify as wilderness. However, many protected areas have some degree of human modification or activity, so a definitive estimate of true wilderness is difficult.
The Wildlife Conservation Society generated a human footprint using a number of indicators, the absence of which indicate wildness: human population density, human access via roads and rivers, human infrastructure for agriculture and settlements and the presence of industrial power (lights visible from space). The society estimates that 26 percent of the earth's land mass falls into the category of "Last of the wild." The wildest regions of the world include the tundra, the taiga, the Amazonian rain forest, the Tibetan Plateau, the Australian outback and deserts such as the Sahara, and the Gobi.
It should be noted that the percentage of land area designated "wilderness" does not reflect "quality" of remaining wilderness, part of which is barren areas with low biodiversity. Of the last natural wilderness areas, the taiga — which is mostly wilderness — represents 11 percent of the total land mass in the Northern Hemisphere. Tropical rainforest represent a further 7 percent of the world's land base. Estimates of the earth's remaining wilderness underscore the rate at which these lands are being developed, with dramatic declines in biodiversity as a consequence.
- Planetary habitability
- Global warming
- Ecological footprint
- List of U.S. Wilderness Areas
Act – legal definition of wilderness in the USA
- National Wilderness Preservation System – protects federally managed land areas
- Adventure tourism
- Environmental education
- Outdoor education
- Conservation movement – seeks to protect natural resources
- World Wilderness Congress
- Edward Abbey - writer and wilderness activist
- Tom Brown – naturalist
- Ernest Callenbach – environmental writer
- Aldo Leopold – ecologist, forester and environmentalist
- Bob Marshall – wilderness activist
- Bill Mason - wilderness author and canoeist
- John Muir - author and preservationist, founder of the Sierra Club
- Sigurd F. Olson – author and environmentalist
- Ian Player – international conservationist
- Gary Snyder – poet and environmentalist
- Kieran Suckling – co-founder of the Center for Biological Diversity
- David Suzuki – science broadcaster and environmentalist
- Henry David Thoreau – author, naturalist and development critic
- Howard Zahniser - activist, drafted the Wilderness Act
Notes and references
- Wilderness Articles, Survival Techniques, Edible Plants
- CFACT - Report spreads good news about wilderness areas
- The Wilderness Act of 1964, USA
- Detailed maps of United States wilderness designations
- What is Wilderness? - Definition & discussion of wilderness as a human construction
- Wilderness and the American Mind - by Roderick Nash
- The Meaning of Wilderness - by Sandy Schuman
- The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature by William Cronon.
wilderness in Danish: Vildmark
wilderness in German: Wildnis
wilderness in French: Naturalité
wilderness in Croatian: Divljina
wilderness in Dutch: Wildernis
wilderness in Thai: พื้นที่ไร้มนุษย์อาศัย