Editorial Perspectives

December 2016 | Volume 22, Number 3


One of my favorite quotes by Edward Abbey is “wilderness needs no defense. Only more defenders.” This quote has resurfaced for me in the context of our recent losses of some great wilderness defenders in Ian Player, Bob Lucas, and John Hendee. These individuals, and many others, have created, grown, and contributed to global wildland conservation in ways that many of us can only hope to replicate in some small amount.

As a professional dedicated to protected area management and conservation, I have come to know many of the “defenders” of the wild through their writings. These include Abbey, Rachel Carson, Aldo Leopold, Sigurd Olson, Bob Marshall, Dave Foreman, and others. For many of our colleagues, the writings and reflections of these defenders are the foundation or the voice of their own personal values and passion for wild places and protected areas. Personally, I have had a few instances to listen to individuals like this speak in person, and far fewer opportunities to interact with them on any kind of personal level. I had the privilege of seeing and hearing Dr. Jane Goodall speak at the 9th World Wilderness Congress in Merida, Mexico, and then again at my university’s campus speaker series. Her passionate words, as I’m sure many can attest to, did not disappoint. Instead, they reaffirmed my values and drive to contribute to our profession and the conservation of wild places.

I cannot help but wonder, as I consider the future of protected areas and wild places, “Who are the next iconic, possibly transcendent defenders for wild places? Who can reach that level of respect not only in the professional community but also in the global population?” I ask this question of the college students in my courses. Instead of an answer, they often point to the challenges such a defender would face today. Our world is now one of inter-connectedness, a 24-hour news cycle with social media that provides instantaneous information. It is also a world where everyone can provide their critique and feedback, whether through blogs, websites, and yes … editorials! Given this context, how difficult is it for an individual to emerge as a global representative for wild places and conservation?

This has led me to ask the question “Does wilderness need a celebrity?” Let us examine several celebrities who are known to a global audience. Some individuals, such as Jack Hannah and Steve Irwin (i.e.., the “Crocodile Hunter”) have had limited success in energizing conservation education and awareness of the natural world. Others, such as Leonardo DiCaprio and his speech on climate change at the United Nations, were met with criticism and skepticism because of perceived incongruences in his statements and his own individual carbon footprint. The challenge with any “celebrity” is that in social media today we are quick to praise someone’s accomplishments, and ready to criticize his/her missteps. We admire their prominence and social-political influence while wishing we could individually influence the public to the same extent.

But what “celebrity” does not have a goal that rallies “defenders” to the cause? So maybe wilderness could benefit from a celebrity, but one individual cannot lift up wilderness as a single goal to the vast diversity of our global population. Let us heed Edward Abbey’s words a bit more closely and continue to recruit “defenders.” It preconceived notions, geographic and social norms, and ideological hostility. The disciplines within psychology offer enhanced insight into facilitating discussions internally and externally, so that wilderness management decisions cana be made to better steward wilderness areas.

For example, understanding psychological climates can be key to understanding wilderness interest groups because all interests can share many of the same values – such as utilization of public lands, personal wellness, and community support. Opposition arises because of how given values are prioritized, with opposition increasing as opposing prioritization multiplies. Where one person sees ecological health as the most salient value, another sees community prosperity as the most salient. They may then disagree even on whether or not facts are valid, important, or reliable. And they disagree on the likelihood of a given outcome (Tuan 1974).

Recently retired Bitterroot National Forest district ranger Dan Ritter said it best when he described his job to the Missoulian newspaper in Missoula, Montana: “You are working with people 95% of the time and in the other 5% you make management decisions. I always say, give me an easy resource management issue to deal with any time. Paint that picnic table tan or red? That’s easy. The truth of it is that there are few decisions that you make that don’t require working with the public.”

Inclusion of psychological disciplines and concepts in wilderness education may be furthered by curriculum development within upper level collegiate courses and wilderness staff training courses that investigate the various disciplines of psychology and offer application tools for wilderness students and managers. Such courses could and should provide basic information on developmental, eco, social, behavioral, and cognitive psychology; look at the primary tools of anticipating and analyzing public behavior around wilderness and natural resources (e.g., utilizing Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs; the Theory of Planned Behavior; attunements, affordances and effectivities; primary motivations; social norms, the perceptions of risk and control); and engage participants in applying those concepts to real-world wilder-ness management issues.

In order to better foresee and understand public opinion on, and interaction with, wilderness areas, and the impact those actions have on wilderness managers, psychological disciplines should be directly integrated into all levels of wilderness education.

HEATHER MACSLARROW is executive director of the Society for Wilderness Stewardship; email: h.macslarrow@ wildernessstewardship.org.



Barrett, P. 2013. “Let it burn” USFS policy poses threat to irrigation. Fairfield (MT) Sun Times.
Tuan, Y. F. 1974. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Urness. Z. 2014. Feds want to restrict filming in wilderness areas. Statesman Journal (Salem, OR). Retrieved from http://www.statesmanjournal. com/story/news/local/2014/09/24/feds-want-restrict-filming-wilderness-areas/16138087/ on April 1, 2016.