We protect what we value. For some of us, it’s life on Earth in all its wondrous forms. For others, it’s the history that helped shape and define our culture. And for lucky souls like me, it’s both.
But the competing priorities of modern society often seem to conspire against such quaint notions. So, to ensure that these treasures endure despite the whims of a fickle public, we create protected areas – special places to store our precious natural and cultural heirlooms and (we hope) save them for eternity. Wilderness areas and refuges provide islands of protection for wildlife. National parks provide sanctuaries for both history buffs and nature lovers.
Two of my recent articles explore the topic of protection from these different angles: In Pacific Standard, I examine the debate over how to protect biodiversity 50 years after passage of the Wilderness Act. In The Observer, I consider how controlling sprawl around national parks in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, can help Harpers Ferry, West Virginia preserve its past.
In both cases, it’s clear that wilderness areas and national parks aren’t enough: The places in between matter too, and without a broad commitment to preservation globally and locally, forces outside protected areas slowly erode the integrity of what lingers inside. Saving our natural and cultural history going forward will require more than erecting boundaries, but rather, extending hands to those who value other treasures as well, and fostering their commitment to the things that we love.