Science & Research

August 2016 | Volume 22, Number 2


The Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute often hosts international visitors, usually from a few days to a few months. Scientists at the Leopold Institute have developed strong relationships with these visitors from all over the world, and as a result, our two organizations often become much closer. A great deal of intercultural learning often takes place as well. A new relationship that started this past year was with the Korea Forest Service. Seok Seung Lim was selected by his government to come to the Leopold Institute for a two-year fellowship that began in June of 2015. We asked Seok Seung (we call him Forrest) to reflect a little on why he came here and how his first year is going.

My wilderness journey began in December of 2014. I clearly remember the moment that I first saw mention of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute (ALWRI) back in South Korea. I had been chosen as a recipient of the Korean Government Fellowship for Overseas Study. At that time, I was trying to find a place in the United States where I could come to study ecotourism and sustainable recreation in forests. This is an important topic for the Korea Forest Service.

While I was Internet surfing on this topic of sustainability, just by chance I found an intriguing article entitled “Protecting Ecotourism Resources in a Time of Rapid Economic and Environmental Transformation in Asia” by Alan Watson et al. (2009) of the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute. I learned from this article one approach to studying the relationship between natural resources, ecotourism, and sustainability, and I had a strong feeling that I could continue to learn a great deal from the authors of this paper. I sent an e-mail message right away to ask if it would be possible to study under Dr. Watson’s supervision. Fortunately, I received a positive response and was accepted as an International Visitor of the USDA Forest Service to come study at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute in Missoula, Montana.

After some initial excitement, I looked again at the name of the institute where I was accepted to study. I realized that two parts of the institute name, “Aldo Leopold” and “Wilderness,” were beyond my knowledge. I had to start studying this place I was going to spend the next two years visiting. It didn’t take me very long to find that Aldo Leopold was a colossal figure in American conservation history. He had presented new perspectives on the relationship between humans and nature by advancing a land ethic (another philosophical concept to study, and one I am still working on!).
But at least I understood that this place where I was going to study is dedicated to the life’s work of this man. Also, wilderness must be connected somehow to this idea of a land ethic.

I then examined translations of the word wilderness in an English-Korean dictionary. In there, wilderness was translated as “황야 (Hwang-ya),” or “황무지 (Hwang-mu-ji).” When I saw these Korean translations for wilderness, it suggested to me that these people must study a barren and desolate land in which living things are barely seen. Hwang-ya and Hwang-mu-ji are both defined very basically in Korean as a field or a wasteland that has been neglected and untouched. These words are used in phrases such as:

• “a trackless and desolate Hwang-ya,”

• “make a barren Hwang-ya fertile,”

• “cultivate Hwang-mu-ji,” and

• “due to the war, many villages fell into ruin and the farmland have turned into Hwang-mu-ji.”

At the same time, the word Hwang-ya reminded me of two American western films I had watched when I was little. Each of them had this word in the Korean titles. One was A Desperado of Hwang-ya and the other was Seven Men of Hwang-ya. It was not until recently that I found that the original titles of these films in English were respectively A Fistful of Dollars and The Magnificent Seven. Why did both of them include the word Hwang-ya? I assumed it was because the main settings of the movies were barren and arid deserts, where clouds of dust rose as heroes galloped on their horses.

Regarding the word Hwang-mu-ji, the only use of it I knew came from a Korean translation of the title of a famous poem: “The Waste Land” by T. S. Eliot. The Korean title of this poem is simply “Hwang-mu-ji.” This knowledge had me perplexed. What does the Leopold Institute have to do with barren wastelands? Am I going to the right place to learn about sustainability issues?

I had to dig deeper into this concept of wilderness. I looked it up in an English dictionary and found that wilderness can have several meanings, including (1) “a wild and uncultivated region, as of forest or desert, uninhabited or inhabited only by wild animals”; “a tract of wasteland”; (2) “a tract of land officially designated as such and protected by the U.S. Government”; (3) “any desolate tract, as of open sea”; (4) “a part of a garden set apart for plants growing with unchecked luxuriance”; and (5) “a bewildering mass or collection” ( Also, with the first letter capitalized, Wilderness can be part of the name of specific areas such as a wooded region of Virginia where several battles were fought in 1864 between the armies of Generals Grant and Lee. Also, the Wilderness can be the barren regions to the south and east of Palestine where Israelites wandered before entering the Promised Land.

It seems that wilderness has at least two types of meanings in the United States: One is a region where the wild and uninhabited characteristics are seen as a positive set of attributes and are even protected to stay that way, and the other is a wasteland focusing on desolate and barren landscapes. I was hoping wilderness in the ALWRI context would be related to the former rather than the latter, and that if I came to understand a land ethic I would also understand these positive values associated with its protection.

I was right – it became clear when I examined the definition of wilderness in the Wilderness Act of 1964. It says that a wilderness is an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain. Wilderness, within the institute where I would go to study, turned out to be an area where the natural and wild conditions are unimpaired by human beings and its primeval character is well kept. It contains tremendous treasures such as ecological, geological, scientific, educational, scenic, historical, or recreational values, and therefore deserves to be protected and preserved for now and future generations. We did not have such a word in Korean. At last, I felt like I was heading in the right direction to learn.

Six months later, on June 1, 2015, I made a trip from South Korea to the United States and arrived in Missoula, Montana. After setting up a base camp at ALWRI, I resumed my journey to understand wilderness. My adventure into the concept of wilderness has been getting wider and deeper step by step. Looking back on my struggle to understand wilderness, I feel so lucky and grateful that I have this perfect base camp, ALWRI, because I am learning about the concept of wilderness both in the United States and in many other countries. I imagine going back home next year and telling the story of my journey through the wilderness and how I came to understand the role of a land ethic in planning for sustainability. This story might stimulate curiosity and trigger other journeys to the wilderness in South Korea.


Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute. An elegy for Aldo. Retrieved from Retrieved from

Watson, Alan, Dave Ostergren, Peter Fix, Bill Overbaugh, Dan McCollum, Linda Kruger, Martha Madsen, and He Yang. 2009. Protecting ecotourism resources in a time of rapid economic and environmental transformation in Asia. In Strategic Management Engineering: Enterprise, Environment and Crisis, Proceedings of 2009 International Conference on Strategic Management, ed. Jie Xiaowen, Xu Xu , and Ingrid Schneider (pp. 185–201). Sichuan University Press. The Wilderness Act of 1964. Retrieved from http://www.wilderness. net/NWPS/legisact.

네이버 영어사전. Definition of wilderness. Retrieved from 9ae4872807492b347c563d4&query=wild국립국어원 표준국어대사전. 황야, 황무지 정의. Retrieved from

SEOK SEUNG LIM is an administrative officer for the Korea Forest Service, previously stationed in Yeongwol National Forest, Eastern Regional Office, South Korea. He is on a two-year fellowship at the Aldo Leopold Wilderness Research Institute through the end of May 2017; email: