What Is Behind the Wilderness Idea?

November 3rd, 2015 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

What Is Behind the Wilderness Idea?

Excerpts of Howard Zahniser Speech with Introduction By David Brower

Sierra Club Bulletin, January 1956

Introduction by David Brower

Plunge Pool, Tributary to Coyote Gulch, now Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, 1978 by Philip Hyde. Original version from Slickrock with Edward Abbey.

Plunge Pool, Tributary to Coyote Gulch, now Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, Utah, 1978 by Philip Hyde. Original version from Slickrock with Edward Abbey. Philip Hyde worked with David Brower to help establish many national parks of the West. Hyde also knew Howard Zahniser, talked with him about projects by phone and met with him in Washington DC when Hyde’s exhibition opened at the Cosmos Club there.

Howard Zahniser, executive secretary of The Wilderness Society and editor of The Living Wilderness, presented an address at the National Citizen’s Planning Conference on Parks and Open Spaces for the American People, held in Washington, D.C. May 24, 1955. His remark, in which he proposed the establishment of a national wilderness preservation system, included passages on the underlying philosophy of the wilderness idea that have been widely quoted. Following are some of them. (For more about David Brower see the blog post, “David Brower: Photographer and Environmentalist 1.” For more  on Howard Zahniser see the blog post, “The Oregon Cascades’ Impact on Conservation.”)

Excerpts from Speech by Howard Zahniser

In addition to our needs for urban and suburban parks and open spaces, in addition to the need for a countryside of rural loveliness, a landscape of beauty for our living, and in addition to the needs for parkways and parks and well-developed areas for all kinds of outdoor recreation, there is in our planning a need also to secure the preservation of some areas that are so managed as to be left unmanaged—areas that are undeveloped by man’s mechanical tools and in every way unmodified by his civilization. These are the areas of wilderness that still live on in our national parks, State parks and forests…

These are areas with values that are in jeopardy not only from exploitation for commodity purposes and from appropriation for engineering uses. Their peculiar values are also in danger from development for recreation, even from efforts to protect and manage them as wilderness…

I believe that at least in the present phase of our civilization we have a profound, a fundamental need for areas of wilderness—a need that is not only recreational and spiritual but also educational and scientific, and withal essential to a true understanding of ourselves, our culture, our own natures, and our place in all nature.

This need is for areas of the earth within which we stand without our mechanisms that make us immediate masters over our environment—areas of wild nature in which we sense ourselves to be, what in fact I believe we are, dependent members of an interdependent community of living creatures that together derive their existence from the sun…

We deeply need the humility to know ourselves as the dependent members of a great community of life, and this can indeed be one of the spiritual benefits of a wilderness experience. Without the gadgets, the inventions, the contrivances whereby men have seemed to establish amount themselves an independence of nature, without these distractions, to know the wilderness is to know a profound humility, to recognize one’s littleness…

Paradoxically, the wilderness which thus teaches modern man his dependence on the whole community of life can also teach him a needed personal independence—an ability to care for himself, to carry his own burdens, to provide his own fuel, prepare his own food, furnish his own shelter, make his own bed, and –perhaps most remarkable of all—transport himself by walking…

We are a part of the wildness of the universe. That is our nature. Our noblest, happiest character develops with the influence of wildness. Away from it, we degenerate into the squalor of slums or the frustration of clinical couches. With the wilderness we are at home.

Some of us think we see this so clearly that for ourselves, for our children, our continuing posterity, and our fellow man we covet with a consuming intensity the fullness of the human development that keeps its contact with wildness. Out of the wilderness, we realize, has come the substance of our culture, and with a living wilderness—it is our faith—we shall have also a vibrant vital culture—an enduring civilization of healthful happy people who, like Antaeus, perpetually renew themselves in contact with the earth…

Do you feel people need wilderness? Why or why not?

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