Wilderness For Science

The most important characteristic of an organism is that capacity forinternal self-renewl known as health.

There are two organisms whose processes of self-renewal have been subjected to human interference and control. One of these are humans themselves (medicine and public health) and the other is land (agriculture and conservation).

The effort to control the health of land has not been very successful. It is now generally understood that when soil loses fertility, or washes away faster than it forms, and when water systems exhibit abnormal floods and shortages, the land is sick.

Other derangements are known as facts, but are not yet thought of as symptoms of land sickness. The disappearance of plants and animal species without visible cause, despite efforts to protect them, and the irruption of others as pests despite efforts to control them, must, in the absence of simpler explanations, be regarded as symptoms of sickness in the land organism. Both are occuring too frequently to be dismissed as normal evolutionary events...

In general, the trend of evidence indicates that in land, just as in the human body, the symptoms may lie in one organ while the cause in another. The practices we now call conservation are, to a large extent, local alleviations of biotic pain. They are often necessary, but the must not be confused with cures. The art of land-doctoring is being practiced with vigor, but the science of land health is yet to be born.

A science of land health needs, first of all a base datum of normality, a picture of how healthy land maintains itself as an organism...

The most perfect norm is wilderness...Paleontology offers abundant evidence that wilderness maintained itself for immensely long periods; that its component species were rarely lost, neither did they get out of hand; that weather and water built soil as fast or faster than it was carried away. Wilderness, then, assumesunexpected importance as a laboratory for the study of land health.

Aldo Leopold, from Wilderness in A Sand County Almanac

HomeCommunitySustainabilityWildernessHonoring the SacredForum