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Humber Portage - Recreation/Preservation - James E Garratt

What is a major goal of environmental activism? Is it to retain natural areas for human recreational purposes? Or is it to preserve untouched areas in which original natural forces can enact their timeless pagentry with as little human interference as possible?

Indeed, the two - recreation and preservation - may work together. A golf course, for example, may incidentally contain a small wetland or woodlot which otherwise would have been completely obliterated (a so-called 'relic' of the past landscape). Likewise, a wilderness preserve might nourish many recreational opportunities such as wildlife viewing and backcountry travel.

However in recent years as - due largely to economic forces - partnerships have flourished among citizen groups (non-governmental organizations, NGOs), businesses and government agencies, more weight is being given to the explicitly recreational rationale.

Thus the vague and inoffensive term greenspace is heard with greater frequency, within applied environmental discourse, than the more definite and committed term wilderness. Similarly, the term conserve is seen as more friendly and appropriate than the notion of preservation.

The distinctions are further blurred by such conceptual nuances as:
* can any dynamic landscape ever be 'preserved'?
* does preservation of natural areas require human intervention to maintain some static state?
* the oft-heard assertion that since Homo sapiens is intrinsically natural, than our species' presence and effects cannot logically be excluded from any landscape.
* thus the distinctions between human/nature, recreation/preservation are portrayed as being largely invalid.

I believe, however, that the links between such obscurantism and those who seek cheap and easy ways to exploit the Earth's last wild areas, are too obvious to ignore. Intellectual relativity and wishy-washiness pave the way past ethical issues and may ease a guilty conscious.
And so:
the old growth forest becomes a 'tree farm'
the wetland becomes a sewage lagoon
the urban stream becomes a storm sewer
the suburban woodlot becomes a 'parkette'
the informal country trail becomes an all-weather access route for 'emergency vehicals'
the machine is transformed into a thing of 'nature'.

Environmentalists need to consciously nuture their ideals - even as they are admitted more fully than ever into mainstream society (ie. politics). Close contact with the primary source of inspiration - wild nature at home or aboard - is needed to develop the wisdom with which to judge compromises and trade-offs. Wilderness is the final resort.

copyright James E Garratt

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