Wilderness Has Intrinsic Value Essay Research Paper

Wilderness Has Intrinsic Value Essay, Research Paper

Does wilderness have intrinsic value? To begin analyzing the pro side of this issue we need to first define the word wilderness, and then define the word intrinsic. Authors, philosophers, and preservationists have long struggled to define wilderness. For some, it is a concept, a state of mind, or an opportunity. For many, wilderness is best described as a place where nature and its forces work undisturbed by human activities. Wilderness areas are generally larger than 5000 acres and have retained their primeval character. In the U.S. there are over 100 million acres of federal land designated Wilderness by Congressional legislation. Even in today s dictionaries, wilderness is defined as uncultivated and otherwise undeveloped land. The absence of men and the absence of wild animals is a common, modern-day perception. The word also designated other non-human environments, such as the sea and, more recently, outer space. The usual dictionary meaning of wilderness implies “hostility on man s part,” but the term has also developed positive meanings. On one hand, wilderness is “inhospitable, alien, mysterious, and threatening.” On the other, “beautiful, friendly, and capable of elevating and delighting us” (Nash). Today, some define wilderness as a sanctuary in which those in need of consolation can find respite from the pressures of civilization. Bob Marshall, champion for wilderness, demanded an area so large that “it could not be traversed without mechanical means in a single day.” Aldo Leopold, wilderness visionary, set his standard as an area s ability to “absorb a two weeks pack trip.” A century-old movement to protect wild country reached it s peak moments in time with the creation of a National Wilderness Preservation System, passed into law by Congress as the Wilderness Act of 1964. According to it s authors, the Wilderness Act defined wilderness, “in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.” The act went on to require that a wilderness retain “its primeval character and influence” and that it be protected and managed in such a way that it “appears to have been affected primarily by the force of nature.” Some Native American cultures do not have a word for wilderness nor do they protect land as officially designated wilderness. They believe all land should be respected and all land is used only for survival, whether that is physical, spiritual or mental. If asked, we all have a different and unique definition for what wilderness means to us.

The word intrinsic means; relating to the essential nature of a thing, in this case wilderness. It means inherent, genuine, real, inward, internal, or innate. My topic defends how wilderness is important and valuable within itself, not only from what we as humans can take from it, but how the internal value (resources) can help us and allow us to coexist. In order for us to benefit from this coexistence, preservation of these wild lands is important and essential.

The preservation of wild lands is uniquely American. Our first contact with the “New World” exposed us to the rich culture of the American Indians and their intimate knowledge of the natural world. Toward the end of the 19th century and the end of the frontier era, forward- looking individuals such as John Wesley Powell, John Muir and Gifford Pinchot contributed to a conservation of public lands. They and others recognized that resources were limited and settling the West, with an economic base of natural resources, required conservation practices. Arguments were made for the preservation of land for non-extractive purposes, and laws were passed that today leave us with a precious treasure of undisturbed wild lands.

Through recent history, Western European cultures and traditions have maintained a distinct separation between the land and our human existence. Many people are beginning to see the connections, beginning to see that we cannot separate ourselves from the land. Humans are a part of the natural world, not apart from it, and our style of living has effects upon the health of the bigger global environment. The preservation of wild lands has many values. Recognizing these diverse and unique values opens a world of understanding about the natural world. Preserving wilderness may someday be seen through eyes of historians as the most important contribution societies can make to the health of the global environment. Here are some of those values. Together, they show how rare and valuable our wild lands are (Nash).

Reservoirs of Biological Diversity

“The outstanding scientific discovery of the Twentieth Century is not the television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little is known about it. ” – Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac (1949). Wilderness is one part of the “land organism”. Wilderness plays a significant role in the overall health of ecosystems. Rare and endangered plant and animal species require habitats that are relatively undisturbed so gene pools can be sustained, adaptations made, and populations maintained. Many rare and endangered species are indicators of ecological health, or they may play key roles in the balance of the ecosystem. Natural disturbance, like floods or fires, maintain natural processes, systems, and patterns. Few places are left where rivers, flood and trees are allowed to burn in natural cycles. Wildness is the heart of the “land organism”.

Scientific Value

Wilderness serves as a unique and irreplaceable “living laboratory” for medicinal and scientific research. Wilderness also protects geologic resources. Undisturbed, naturally occurring geologic phenomena are protected for present and future generations so they may pursue the origin of this planet and the universe.


Many wildernesses are the headwaters of our rivers and water systems. These watersheds provide sources of clean water. Minimal human activity or development in these areas preserves waters for future generations. Without clean water, societies cannot flourish. The connection between our wildernesses and our cities is most evident with water, our basic resource.

Life Support Systems

Wilderness serves as critical habitat for animal and plant life. Wilderness maintains gene pools to provide diversity of plants and animal life. Today, as we learn more about the greenhouse effect and the depletion of the ozone layer, more and more people realize that humanity is part of an interconnected “web of life,” and that the survival of our own species may ultimately depend on the survival of natural areas.

Historic and Cultural Values

Wilderness is a unique repository for cultural resource. Artifacts and structures protected by the Archeological Resources Protection Act or other laws take on a new perspective when experienced within the context of the wilderness. These features tell a valuable story about the human relationship with wild lands. In addition, culture has been defined by wilderness. The wild environments from which we created societies have affected our American values of freedom, ingenuity and independence. Wildness has been a part of America since its beginnings, and for this reason, Americans have a special attraction to wildness.

Spiritual Values

The spirit of the land can be understood through the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Zen, the Buddhist or simply an individual s connection through experience. These wild lands offer opportunities for reflection, observation, and explorations of the ideas and experiences that can only be found in our wild areas. They have become churches of sorts, for our personal growth and our understanding of the relations between humans and the land (Nash).

Aesthetic Values

The sudden change from a hot sunny day to a powerful storm exploding in lightning and roaring thunder, the delightful sound of a trickling stream, the feel of bark from a thousand year old Bristle Cone pine, the morning light beaming on cliffs and ridges; a glassy lake reflecting a peak. These are moments we cherish, whether seen in picture books or movies or with our own eyes. Call it beauty. Humans are enchanted by nature. We are not in control, but we are participants. This is the aesthetic of wilderness that has a special value.


Many people enjoy traveling in wilderness areas for the challenge or the pure joy of such an experience. Values such as self-reliance are particularly important. You are responsible for yourself. Your actions are of consequence. Lessons of the wild teach us something about being human and what our relationship to nature is all about.


Wilderness serves as a haven from the pressure of our fast-paced industrial society. It is a place where we can seek relief from the noise and speed of machines, confines of steel and concrete, and the crowding of people.

Educational Values

Wilderness is a teacher. Wilderness areas are living classrooms from which knowledge about us and our worlds are lessons, waiting to be learned.

“In Wildness is the preservation of the world.”

- Henry David Thoreau

“In human culture is the preservation of wildness.”

- Wendel Berry

Wilderness does have intrinsic value, and the key to its success as well as our own, is preservation of these rich lands. There are endless reasons why society should choose to preserve these lands, yet some only see conservation as the answer. It is important that society is educated on the issues before they are forced to choose a side. If they are not educated about preservation and conservation then they do not have a right to be included in any decisions that could affect our future.

Works Cited

Leopold, Aldo. A Sand County Almanac, 1949.

Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind, Yale University Press, 1982.


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