Myth 7: Wilderness stops other uses and is not sustainable (i.e. multiple use or ‘sustainable use’)

Myth: Wilderness stops other uses (i.e. multiple use) which might attain a ‘balanced, sustainable relationship’ (Cronon 1996).

Truth: This is not a complete myth, as wilderness does stop some other uses such as exploitation (and rightly so). The question is whether wilderness is ‘unsustainable’. Wilderness in most countries is only a few percent of the land area. For example, in NSW Australia, 95% has been altered so much that it is not wilderness any more – so where is the balance? To degrade the remaining 5% by using it as a resource for humans is hardly going to help us reach a balanced, sustainable relationship. Rather, to reach such a relationship we need to protect all of our remaining wilderness, and link these areas together through a Wild Country vision (as proposed by the Wilderness Society) so as to ‘rewild’ the state to some extent. Wilderness lets us learn about wild nature, and gives us the perspective that we need to reach a sustainable relationship in the future. Currently it is fashionable to speak of ‘sustainable use’, which has now replaced multiple use as a buzz word. This is part of the ongoing trend towards the commodification of nature (Washington 2010). There is nothing unsustainable about keeping large natural areas. Attempts to allow more tourism, fishing, hunting, logging or mining are just part of the continuing modernist and resourcist philosophy that insists natural areas are just for human use (Washington 2006). So wilderness does stop exploitative uses, and rightly so. Others argue that Biosphere Reserves allow ‘compatible human residence and economic activity in and around reserves’ (Callicott 2003). ‘Multiple use’ has been adopted in some countries under the rubric of ‘biosphere reserves’, with associated problems due to poor enforcement of protection measures (Soule 2001). Wilderness is in fact essential to working out how to live sustainably in other more developed landscapes:

how are we to figure out how to manage resources … without wild areas as benchmarks and blueprints? How are we to show restraint in our management of resources … when we don’t have enough respect to set aside big, wild areas for their own sake?(Noss 2003b)


Agreed, sometimes if we use something less it is more valuable.