June 2017 | Volume 23, Number 1
by ROBERT DVORAK
I considered finishing the title of this editorial in a number of ways. Wilderness in a time of polarizing politics? …in a time of climate change? … in a time of rhetoric and conflict? Any one of these examples might illustrate the socio- and geopolitical climate that many of us as wilderness professionals, managers, educators, and advocates are currently experiencing.
In part, this title was inspired by a gathering nearly 20 years ago, the Wilderness Science in a Time of Change Conference held in Missoula, Montana in May 1999. The conference produced five volumes of literature that examined changing perspectives, wilderness within larger systems, scientific inquiry, visitor management, and ecosystem threats. As a wilderness educator and scientist, it remains for me one of the most valuable resources in wilderness science. It also highlights that we are again in a “time of change,” and for many of us it is a time that is uncomfortable, troublesome, and surreal.
A fundamental concern of the changes we see today are the paradigmatic and foundational shifts in interpretations of science, knowledge, communication, and collaboration. For many of us, advocating for conservation, protected areas, and wilderness are core values and missions, yet advocacy is being belittled as simple rhetoric. Passion, grassroots organization, and citizen mobilization are being characterized as inciting conflict and marginalized as “rabble rousing.” This may not seem new to everyone. Previous generations and movements have strived and overcome adversity to forward the cause of wilderness. But to other generations, particularly the students and young professionals whom I interact with daily, it can be extremely disheartening and discouraging.
Aldo Leopold’s “thinking like a mountain” speaks that only the mountain has lived long enough to listen objectively to the howl of the wolf. The “mountain” is also a perfect allegory of wilderness today. It will remain as we move through this time of change, long knowing what we as humans are unable to perceive. But what will remain in terms of wilderness? What will the mountain look like when all has been settled? Will it be a shell or mere proxy for what is needed for long- term sustainability?
I would suggest that more than ever we must as a community communicate our values through collaboration, science, and bipartisan processes. When opportunity presents itself, we must be proud advocates and representatives of the causes of stewardship and conservation. More than any time before now, we have the mechanisms and communication tools to advocate for sustaining the important global resource that is nature. Thus, we cannot shy away from the interactions, conversations, and opportunities to advocate for wild nature in the near future. By seizing those opportunities, this time of change may conclude with a preserved, protected, and expanded value of wilderness.
In this issue of IJW, Peter Ashley discusses mapping the inner experience of wilderness. Dan Dustin, Larry Beck, and Jeff Rose examine emerging issues related to technology on the Pacific Crest Trail. We also have a summary of the Interagency Visitor Use Management Framework from the US federal agencies.
ROBERT DVORAK is managing editor of IJW and associate professor in the Department of Recreation, Parks, and Leisure Services Administration at Central Michigan University; email: email@example.com.