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Environmental Ethics

Volume 16, Issue 3, Fall 1994

R. Edward Grumbine
Pages 227-249

Wildness, Wise Use, and Sustainable Development

Ideas of wilderness in North America are evolving toward some new configuration. Current wilderness ideology, among other weaknesses, has been charged with encouraging a radical separation between people and nature and with being inadequate to serve the protection of biodiversity. Sustainable development and “wise use” privatization of wildlands have been offered as alternatives to the Western wilderness concept. I review this wilderness debate and argue that critical distinctions between wildness and wilderness and self and other must be settled before alternatives can be considered. I look closely at arguments for sustainable development and argue that the limits on the human use of nature are discounted and technological management of wildlands is emphasized. I also argue that the “wise use” response to wilderness is a radically utilitarian option that does not contribute to evolving ideas of wilderness or sustainability and that replacing the sustainable development idea with sustainable landscape protection might better serve both wildness and human projects. Finally, I offer the ways of life of post-migratory ecosystem-based cultures as models of appropriate human behavior within a management framework of habitat protection for viable populations of all native species and conclude that our purpose in protecting wildness is not to preserve nature or to improve it, but rather to learn a sense of limits from it and to model culture after it.