Myth 3: Wilderness is a state of mind, a concept, not a place

Myth: Wilderness is a state of mind, a concept, not a place (Lowenthal 1964, Nash 1979, Cronon 1996, Johnston 2003)

Truth: Wilderness is a concept, so is Sydney, so is Canberra, so are national parks – but wilderness is also a place. One can argue about the definition and boundaries, but large natural areas (the IUCN definition of wilderness) do exist. Wildernesses are real places with real problems that need real protection to continue to survive. None of the myth authors explain why wilderness as large natural areas do not exist, why they are purely concepts, any more than national parks are (which are also real places). There seems to be a confusion here between the wilderness experience (which may not always occur in formally declared wilderness) and the gazetted wilderness itself (as the material reality of a large, natural area). There also seems to be a postmodernist reluctance to draw boundaries tied up in this debate, as these are seen as separating areas and creating dualisms. Wilderness as a ‘concept’ appears acceptable to some, but drawing boundaries and defining a mapped wilderness seems tainted to others. Such beliefs of course would make it impossible to actually identify and effectively manage wilderness to ensure its survival into the future. Wilderness being seen as purely a ‘concept’ also seems to ignore any eco-centric or biogeographic arguments for the design and boundaries of large natural areas (Soule and Terbough 1999). It has been noted that wilderness exists in the public imagination ‘and on the ground’, that it is ‘self-willed land’, that part of the landscape where other species flourish (Locke 2000). Wilderness ‘is an identifiable place where wildness is achieved’ (Berry 2000). Nash (2001, p. viii) notes of wilderness that ‘a state of mind was involved, but so was an environmental condition’.