Thursday, September 4, 2014

Is wilderness sustainable?

My normal, layabout, schedule has been disrupted this week by a trip over the holiday weekend and a visit to get measured (fitted?) for the tux I'll be wearing in a month at the Daughter Person's wedding plus an extended meeting yesterday afternoon, on Strategic Planning for the USGBC-MN chapter. So, it wasn't until this morning that I had a chance to read Ron Meador's really well done column in MinnPost, extending a happy 50th wish to The Wilderness Act. I especially appreciated his inclusion of a link to a suggested syllabus for the 50th anniversary of that Act. I find it more than mildly ironic that this week also includes the 100th anniversary of the death of Martha, the last passenger pigeon. At least one of the essays I read these past few days suggested that its basic problem was our perception of the bird's apparently inexhaustible abundance. I suspect the same can be said about the way we use and abuse a number of other resources, both renewable and not. I doubt any of us will ever see the return of the white pine stands that were logged early last century. You can probably name the rest of the usual suspects. But, after reading Meador's Wilderness column, just out of curiosity, I "googled" is wilderness sustainable? and got a very pleasant surprise.

North Woods white pine
Photo by J. Harrington

The first link to turn up was a story from yesterday's Guardian, in the Sustainable Business section, on the economics of open space. I wish that at least some of the folks living on the Iron Range would read it, especially this quotation:
The diversified nature of outdoor recreation creates a widespread and diverse economic ecosystem, including the travel industry, gear suppliers and local businesses around national parks, state lands, local parks and more. That can be a strength, Hugelmeyer says, helping to buoy the economy through uncertain times: “When you are diversified, you aren’t exposed to any one activity going out of fashion.”
To be candid, I would have liked it better is the article were in The Economist, but I'm learning to appreciate small victories. A British paper with a great photo of Minnesota's Boundary Waters Canoe Wilderness Area isn't something to be readily discounted, especially when it also points out that access to public lands is a notable locational factor for "...faster rates of job growth and higher income levels related to the knowledge-based economy." I haven't read the report yet but am dubious tech startup founders would be as enamored of mine tailings disasters and similar disruptions of the natural environment. I don't think Minnesota should concede an economic locational competitive advantage to the states west of us. I also don't think any poet knows wilderness and sustainable better than Gary Snyder.

Mid-August at Sourdough Mountain Lookout

By Gary Snyder 

Down valley a smoke haze
Three days heat, after five days rain   
Pitch glows on the fir-cones
Across rocks and meadows
Swarms of new flies.

I cannot remember things I once read   
A few friends, but they are in cities.   
Drinking cold snow-water from a tin cup   
Looking down for miles
Through high still air.


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