“Keeping The Wild: Against the Domestication of Earth”
Edited by George Wuerthner, Eileen Crist, and Tom Butler
Published, 2014 by Island Press. 271 pages.
By Steve Glass
Keeping the Wild is a collection of essays brought together in response to Anthropocene-boosters, who, in the view of the contributors, “claim that wild nature is no more, that human-caused extinction is no big deal, and that “novel ecosystems” are an adequate replacement for natural landscapes.” The volume is comprised of 20 essays, and divided into three sections (Clashing Worldviews, Against Domestication, and The Value of the Wild) plus an introduction and an epilogue. All of the essayists are well-known, long-time conservationists, historians, writers, academic scholars, researchers, deep ecologists, and scientists. Among the more widely known contributors are David Ehrenfeld, Dave Foreman, Curt Meine, Kathleen Dean Moore, Roderick Frazier Nash, Michael Soule, and Terry Tempest Williams.
“Keeping the Wild” is the product of a meeting of leading conservationists, sponsored by the Weeden Foundation, hosted by Michael Soule, and held in Denver, Colorado—the
Acknowledgments section does not reveal the date of the meeting, but a Google search indicates that it was held in 2012—the purpose of which was to discuss the “increasing prominence of voices who are promoting the ‘Anthropocene’ and using it to frame conservation in terms of a human-dominated Earth” (page 222). Tom Butler, one of the editors, refers to this conservation influence when he notes, in the introduction, that the book was “Conceived to confront the notion of human hegemony and also to join the growing conversation within the conservation movement about the so-called Anthropocene.” Butler goes on to say of the Anthropocene movement: “That word describing the age of human domination of Earth has been embraced by some academics, journalists, and environmentalists and is increasingly used to conceptualize, and often to justify, further domestication of the planet.”
To those of us in the restoration ecology field, this sounds eerily like the concerns that are voiced about the “novel ecosystems” concept and what many fear would be the result if the proponents’ arguments were carried to their logical extreme. If you have not been following this discussion, restorationists like Richard Hobbs, Eric Higgs, Carol Hall, and James Harris, among others, have been drawing attention to the fact that the ecology of some sites has been so altered as a result of recent human influence that it may be impossible, for all practical purposes, to return them to any clearly defined historic condition, and that all of them will sooner or later be subject to novel—or “no-analogue”— conditions as a result of climate change in any case. With this in mind, they espouse land management goals that allow for the emergence, and even deliberate creation, of novel systems adapted to these altered conditions. While they do not generally propose this as a substitute for restoration, their position on this point is at least consistent with the idea that we might as well give up on the admittedly challenging task of restoration and focus on attempts to create novel, presumably more or less self-sustaining systems for the future. If the editors and authors are aware of this discussion, however, they do not mention it. (To read more about the novel ecosystems concept, see the 2013 book by Hobbs, Higgs, and Hall “Novel Ecosystems: Intervening in the New World Order”)
It’s relevant, however, because “Keeping The Wild” is a book about the age-old dichotomy or conflict between wilderness conservation and natural resource exploitation. As Curt Meine reminds us in his essay, the domestication versus wildness debate is not new, and each generation must have its “great new wilderness debate.” Surprisingly, in this book, which sets out to argue against the Anthropocene boosters, the one thing that a reader might well think is crucial, but that is missing, is a critical discussion of the arguments for the Anthropocene point of view. I would have both enjoyed and appreciated a rigorous examination of the strengths and weaknesses of the Anthropocene philosophy, or at least an acknowledgement of critiques say, in the style of that offered by commentators like Murchia, et al (2014) in their examination of the novel ecosystems concept.