Wilderness: the history, significance and promise of an American value
Henderson, David Graham
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Wilderness has been a central value in the development of the American environmental tradition and has been established in our laws and institutions, first in the National Park System and then more extensively through the Wilderness Act. Some have suggested that valuing wilderness, understood as nature without people or culture, is a peculiarly modern sentiment and that it is internally inconsistent, pathological, and a hindrance to solving real environmental problems. Contrary to this approach, I defend a richer conception of wilderness that undermines each of these claims. Beginning with an etymology of wilderness and a history of the development of wilderness appreciation, I argue that wilderness is not essentially an absence of people or culture but the flourishing of natural purposes: land characterized by untamed animals and plants in untamed relations. This interpretation of wilderness allows for a more cogent reading of the wilderness preservation tradition and the Wilderness Act. It also elucidates philosophical difficulties surrounding the practices of wilderness management and ecological restoration.