Designating wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964

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PAwildernessadvocate
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Designating wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964

Post by PAwildernessadvocate » Thu Mar 31, 2011 7:35 pm

I like this quote:

In wilderness "the object is not to stop change, nor to recreate conditions as of some arbitrary historical date, nor to strive for favorable change in big game populations or in scenic vistas. The object is to let nature 'roll the dice' and accept the results with interest and scientific curiosity."

--Robert Lucas, from "Wilderness: A management framework," Journal of Soil and Water Conservation 28(4): 150-154
"There is no better way to save biodiversity than by preserving habitat, and no better habitat, species for species, than wilderness." --Edward O. Wilson

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Re: Designating wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964

Post by edfrank » Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:12 pm

Kirk,

I think Robert Lucas is wrong. It is incumbent upon us to try to reverse as much as possible the adverse affects that human activity and greed has inflicted upon nature so that they can achieve some semblance of a natural system dominated by native species rather than to let nature fight an otherwise losing battle on her own. I think the entire premise Lucas is presenting is flawed and just letting things sort themselves out isn't the right approach. There are trends in ecosystem processes that could be reversed. Consider the idea of thresholds. There isn't necessarily just one stable ecosystem that can exist in a given set of environmental conditions. In certain cases if some thresholds are reached things will tip from one stable ecological system into an entirely new one. I think we should be trying to preserve and reestablish as much of the pre-existing natural systems as possible before these thresholds are reached. If we can step in now and prevent these tipping thresholds from being reached, the system will fall back into a a stable state that more closely resembles the pre-existing, pre-alteration state. We should not let things degrade into another system dominated by exotics that are in general unfavorable to native wildlife and flora if we can reverse that trend, if we can prevent that tipping point from being reached. I think this is something we should be working for and can achieve, but not is we step back and let things fall as they may.

Ed

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"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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Re: Designating wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964

Post by edfrank » Thu Mar 31, 2011 8:32 pm

ENTS,

I suppose a good analogy would be what has been done with some endangered species. There were some species of birds for example that were all but wiped out by DDT and habitat loss. The eggs of these birds, and in some cases the entire breeding populations of the species themselves, were made part of an egg incubation/captive breeding program. As a result their populations were increased and the species was later reintroduced into the wild. Many of these species now have populations high enough to again be able to sustain themselves through natural breeding in the wild. A similar approach can be taken for entire ecosystems, where they things harming the ecosystems are weeded out and threats eliminated or mitigated and hopefully the native ecosystem would be able to become reestablished and gain enough resiliency to be able to withstand and rebound from low level threats to its stability. This is what I think we should be doing in terms of conservation rather than letting things sort themselves out as they may. I know it is not autopoietic as Gary talks about, but the leave it alone approach will not , and cannot achieve the desired or optimum state.

Ed

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"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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Re: Designating wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964

Post by Don » Fri Apr 01, 2011 4:26 pm

Ed/Kirk-
Very thoughtful exchange, and one that occurs in the annals of Ecological Restoration publications often. Ultimately, Kirk's post is correct, in the sense that given enough time and the total absense of man, nature will abide, Gaia will put Mother Earth back on a sustainable and dynamic equilibrium.
But if we, man, can shake off our hubris, and approach the tasks of restoration with humility and all the experience and knowledge we can bring to bear, I believe that we can 'right some of our wrongs'. Not necessarily as in the quote where we return the system back to some historical reference condition, but at least setting the system on a more natural trajectory, and be willing to accept and/or learn from the natural response to such restorative efforts.
We had better, by golly, get better baselines, take more care, and keep better records of our efforts than the USFS/BLM/NPS/etc., and other land managers have in the past. We MUST learn from our mistakes AND our successes.
And that involves having controls, where nothing was done but minimizing man's impact...: > }
-Don
Don Bertolette - President/Moderator, WNTS BBS
Restoration Forester (Retired)
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Re: Designating wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964

Post by PAwildernessadvocate » Tue Apr 05, 2011 3:52 pm

It is another way to state the "guardians not gardeners" ethic with respect to designating wilderness.
"There is no better way to save biodiversity than by preserving habitat, and no better habitat, species for species, than wilderness." --Edward O. Wilson

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Re: Designating wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964

Post by edfrank » Tue Apr 05, 2011 4:52 pm

Kirk,

I can understand that interpretation of how we should deal with wilderness as a conceptual construct, but disagree with the basic premise. If you look at some specific situations, what is the net result of applying the intellectual construct to the real world. Consider some of the islands in the Allegheny River Wilderness. Thompson Island is becoming dominated by aggressive Japanese knotweed. The entire southern end of the island in the summer and winter is essentially a monoculture of knotweed, and the species is spreading northward. In this area there is no regeneration of native understory species. There is no regeneration of the forest of sycamore and silver maple. Once these existing overstory species die, they entire thing will be a monoculture of Japanese knotweed. There will be no species diversity to speak of. There will be no native plant species present because fthey have been crowded out by this invasive. There will not be any native wildlife present because they are not adapted to utilize the species. So you will have a monoculture of an foreign invasive species, no diversity, and that is it.

I suppose in a very narrow to the letter of the intellectual abstract idea of wilderness, this would be a wilderness because since its designation it has not been actively managed by humans. But even that is debatable, because the exiting situation is not a natural ecosystem but one that has been dramatically altered by human activities so the result you are seeing is not a "wilderness."

In any meaningful way the concept of wilderness considers the degree of naturalness or native-ness of the species of plants and animals present. It considered the complexity of the ecosystem and the degree to which the varied elements are inter-related. An island with only a monoculture of knotweed is not wilderness in any real sense of the word. It does not represent in any way the heart of the concept of wilderness.

I would agree that we should not be constantly gardening an area that is considered a wilderness. However at the present time many of the areas up for consideration as wilderness have been broken by years and years of human abuse. There are different paths along which these wilderness areas may evolve over time. One path is continued loss of species and diversity and replacement of native species by exotics. The result will not look anything like the original forest that once graced the area. Another option is to try to do some ecosystem restoration and to mitigate the most egregious problems caused by previous activities. This includes restoration of natural water flow channels, reintroduction of extirpated species, and removal of invasive exotic species. At some point after this restoration as been done, we can back off from actively managing the area. This will not in the long term result in restoring the area to its original state, but will allow a more complex ecosystem to develop with both original and exotic species each playing a role. Nature doesn't know best. What we see in the natural world today are the small percentage of temporary successes among the myriads of failures.

So if the choice is between a completely hands off approach that will only result in further loss or destruction of the few remnants of native systems remaining in these areas, or ecological restoration to try to guide the area to a better result, better in terms of complexity and native species representation, then to me the choice is clear. We should be trying to do ecological restoration rather than blindly following an abstract ideal of "hands off" and ignoring the destructive and irreversible results.

In the case of Thompson Island, it may be beyond saving at this point, but the result not matter how hands off its management has been will never be a true wilderness. I will write more on this when I get more time and we can continue our discussions.

I think, if push came to shove, I would rather have a functioning, diverse, garden dominated by native and natural elements, than a biological desert.

Ed

.
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

Joe

Re: Designating wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964

Post by Joe » Tue Apr 05, 2011 6:16 pm

Given the fact that so much acreage has been altered and limited financial resources, it seems that only a mix of approaches is feasible- for those acres that are considered more significant, for whatever scientific reasons, they'll get a more restorative approach, many other acres could just be left alone to more or less restore themselves- which I suspect, over a long enough time period will be proven effective.
Joe

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Re: Designating wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964

Post by PAwildernessadvocate » Wed Apr 20, 2011 8:56 pm

I haven't responded any further because there isn't really much more to say about that quote. Robert Lucas fairly literally, and accurately, describes the approach when an area of federal public land is added by the U.S. Congress to the National Wilderness Preservation System. When that happens that means we have made the decision to allow that particular area of federal public land to by and large be left to its own devices, for all time to come. (Unless for some reason the Congress passes a subsequent law to undesignate the area -- which has never happened for any wildenress area so far.)
"There is no better way to save biodiversity than by preserving habitat, and no better habitat, species for species, than wilderness." --Edward O. Wilson

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Re: Designating wilderness under the Wilderness Act of 1964

Post by edfrank » Wed Apr 20, 2011 11:13 pm

Hello,

I understand that is how the wilderness designation is supposed to work. My question is whether this is the right approach for all prospective wilderness areas. I would think it is fine for some areas. Other areas may because of past impacts may not be appropriate areas to be designated. I was suggesting that for a third group of areas, perhaps we could or should try to mitigate past impacts before leaving it untouched and to its ow devices.

Ed

.
"I love science and it pains me to think that so many are terrified of the subject or feel that choosing science means you cannot also choose compassion, or the arts, or be awe by nature. Science is not meant to cure us of mystery, but to reinvent and revigorate it." by Robert M. Sapolsky

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