Editor’s note: This posting was authored by Pat Ford. Many years ago, Pat served as the executive director of ICL. Most recently, he was the executive director for Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition. Pat lives in Boise, Idaho, and periodically contributes to the ICL blog.
That’s the title of a short essay in the September 2014 Orion by Jourdan Imani Keith, a naturalist and black woman who lives in Seattle. She is both a celebrant and critic of wilderness, as conventionally defined by many conservation people including me.
I quarrel with a few things in her essay, but I’ve been thinking since I read it of two linked ideas she offers:
"While the lack of access to wild places is beginning to be recognized as an issue of inequity, the absence of more than just a shadow of wilderness in and around urban places is not…. Now largely white organizations and agencies are grappling with the dilemma of a segregated wilderness by working feverishly to get urban people out to remote places-because people will not protect what they have not enjoyed. But what if wilderness zigzagged through areas where urban people live?"
And, "At the signing of the Civil Rights Act, President Johnson said, ,Freedom would be secure only if each generation fought to renew and enlarge its meaning.’ I think the same is true for wilderness."
To recognize, restore, or develop wilderness that zigzags through Coeur D’Alene, Boise, Nampa, Twin Falls is a powerful idea, I think. It would certainly make us renew and enlarge the meaning of wilderness. I offer a few explorations.
1. Since I think restoring wild salmon to central Idaho will do more to safeguard and perpetuate its wildness than any lines on any maps enacted by any authorities, I eagerly await when wild genetic heritage becomes a goal of wilderness campaigners equal to boundary designations by law or regulation. There will be many cases where lines on maps help safeguard wild genetics, but few cases where that will be sufficient. Perhaps our wilderness maps, for both proposed and designated areas, would be more useful, and more informative, if they mapped relations and flows along with boundaries.
2. I and others have spent decades aspiring for places we call "wilderness" to receive the capital W overlay that comes with official designation, to the point where we have trouble separating the lower and upper cases. We might more truly hear Ms. Jourdan if she said "wildness" instead. But I sense she knows this, and that her use of "wilderness" is deliberate. She is challenging an accustomed way of thinking that is bound to an accustomed way of naming.
3. What would the standards and rules be for zigzag wilderness through Idaho cities? Wouldn’t they have to differ from city to city, place to place, in how they enfolded, excluded, and re- or de-developed parks, greenways, floodplains, wetlands, waste areas, golf courses, wandering pets, etc? But wouldn’t there have to be standards and rules, with scientific as well as social mooring?
I doubt any of my commentary goes too deep, but I think her ideas may.