Wild things

This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act, a law that promised to preserve America’s largest wild places in an “untrammeled” state untouched by people. But back in 1964, no one anticipated the Anthropocene of the 21st century – a period in which humans affect every corner of the Earth. Today, global climate change and invasive species from foreign lands (and waters) are changing natural ecosystems in fundamental ways. Plants and animals adapted to particular temperatures and precipitation patterns are shifting their ranges when they can, and are expected to disappear where they can’t. Those that can’t compete with aggressive alien species recede, while the invaders thrive free of their native predators.

 

Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, CO.  Photo by Kristin via Creative Commons
Eagles Nest Wilderness Area, CO. Photo by Kristin via Creative Commons

So what does this mean for wilderness areas? Does a hands-off philosophy still work for preservation today? Ed Zahniser’s father, Howard Zahniser, wrote the Wilderness Act decades ago and dedicated the last years of his life to its passage as a leader of The Wilderness Society. Read what Ed thinks about the current wilderness conundrum in my latest feature for The Observer of Jefferson County, and learn how biologists are struggling with these issues in my article for Pacific Standard earlier this year.

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