Wilderness 1 comment


Alaskan wilderness has very few boundaries, or at least no solid ones. Even if you defined wilderness by excluding cities and towns the animals such as moose and bears are clearly not aware of this. They roam right into the heart of Fairbanks.

Moose3

I guess it is easier to think of cities in Alaska as a wilderness “Grey’ area. I don’t think that a city such as Fairbanks is as wild as the White Mountains, but Fairbanks falls somewhere on that scale. Excluding cities from an understanding of Alaskan wilderness I really feel it starts somewhere around ten miles north of Fox, 10 miles east of Eielson, and 10 miles past Ester.  The woods are so thick there that you could walk off the road and see no one if you wanted to. That is my definition of wilderness.   I am not sure of where the wilderness starts north of the Matsu Valley or south of Anchorage because of the sprawl from that city. This is a very local definition of wilderness to be sure, but I am sure of my definition for where I encounter the “edge’ regularly.

Protecting the wilderness for wilderness sake has never sat well with me. I feel like people from the lower 48 will often accept the vision of wilderness and have no reality of it.

“Why, for instance, is the ‘ wilderness experience’ so often conceived as a form of recreation best enjoyed by those whose class privileges give them the time and resources to leave their jobs behind and “get away from it all?’ Why does the protection of wilderness so often seem to pit urban recreationists against rural people who actually earn their living from the land (excepting those who sell goods and services to the tourists themselves)? Why in the debates about pristine natural areas are “primitive’ peoples idealized, even sentimentalized, until the moment they do something unprimitive, modern, and unnatural, and thereby fall from environmental grace? What are the consequences of a wilderness ideology that devalues productive labor and the very concrete knowledge that comes from working the land with one’s own hands? (37) All of these questions imply conflicts among different groups of people, conflicts that are obscured behind the deceptive clarity of “human’ vs. “nonhuman.’ If in answering these knotty questions we resort to so simplistic an opposition, we are almost certain to ignore the very subtleties and complexities we need to understand.’ (Cronon, The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature, 1995)

Cronon really hits the nail on the head when it comes to Alaskan wilderness being protected by people from the lower 48 because “urban recreationists’ have never seen these vast portions of Alaska. They do not know that people who use this vast portions of our state for food or a livelihood. This disconnect is bad for Alaskans and our economy.   I am not an Alaskan into exploiting the wilderness, but I am sold on utilizing our land in a planned fashion to benefit Alaskans now and for generations to come.  It is not so much as protecting the wilderness as much as it is utilizing the wilderness in a well-managed fashion.

It does occur to me now that I fall right into the dualistic trap of protecting and utilizing as defined by Cronon, and it is a troublesome path because it implies that people who utilize have no desire to preserve and vice versa. Therefore, I should probably use the word conserve rather that preserve. The difference is subtle but I think it will suffice to show that true feelings being expressed in this blog.


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One thought on “Wilderness

  • pmullin1

    I had to smile as you wrote about the moose not recognizing boundaries. They go where they want to go. I know it’s not funny when they get tangled up in a swing set like they do occasionally. I know dogs that we’ve had have never appreciated having moose or bear on our property.
    I think it is important to protect wilderness because once it’s gone, you can never replace it. I don’t feel it is just there for the privileged. It’s for all to enjoy.