Myth 15: Wilderness is not essential for nature conservation

Myth: Wilderness is not essential for nature conservation (Gomez-Pampa and Kaus 1992, Recher and Lunney2003). Wilderness, it is claimed, is not essential for nature conservation. This is an important criticism, as in part it denies the ecological values of wilderness:

wildlands … are presented to the public as natural-resource banks of biodiversity … yet they represent mostly urban beliefs and aspirations. All too often they do not correspond with scientific findings or first hand experience of how the world works. (Gomez-Pampa and Kaus 1992)

Truth: Wilderness is defined by IUCN as a ‘large natural area’. Now large natural areas may not be essential to the conservation of all native species. However it is not tenable to argue that large natural areas are not essential as part of the spectrum of measure overall that are needed to maintain biodiversity in the long term. To argue these are not necessary for nature conservation flies in the face of biogeography, systems science and biodiversity experts such as Wilson, Raven and Soule. The opposite was the conclusion of the AHC report by scientists titled ‘The role of wilderness in nature conservation’ (Mackey et al 1998). This debate thus seems to have three parts. Firstly, that wilderness has not been applied representatively enough across the landscape (which Soule notes was true 75 years ago). Secondly, that wilderness is often declared on areas of low biodiversity (though this is not always true, as the Blue Mountains (NSW) is highly biodiverse). Thirdly, that isolated reserves are not enough, and that there must be connectivity between reserves such as wilderness areas and national parks. The third point has arguably been the vision of the Australian conservation movement for at least 30 years. However, it is not an argument against wilderness, merely something else we need to do as well.