The Importance of Conserving Wilderness

Eno River from Hillsborough Riverwalk

Whether we realize it or not, wilderness is essential to all of our lives. A short list of the major ecological services provided by wilderness includes the following:

  1. regulating climate by sequestering carbon,
  2. retaining topsoil through expansion of root networks,
  3. maintaining biodiversity by providing habitat and food sources for endemic species,
  4. filtering watersheds through microbial and vegetative communities,
  5. purifying air through respiration and storage of pollutants,
  6. supporting indigenous communities who depend on the land for the necessities of life.

And best of all, these essential services are provided to us free of charge. By contrast, if tech industries were to attempt to fulfill the same ecological services provided for free by wilderness, the cost could very easily surpass the national deficit on a monthly basis. In short, wilderness is doing all of us a favor merely by existing. Needless to say, that should be enough for our leaders to conserve wilderness at all costs. Such is not the case however.

As you may have heard, there were some sobering statistics released not long ago in the scientific journal Current Biology regarding the state of wilderness globally. The bottom line, as with so many issues relating to planetary health, is horrifying and obscene. Over a period of two decades, ten percent of all wilderness (3.3 million square kilometers or the equivalent land area of two Alaskas) was annihilated to feed the global economy.

This may not seem to be much on the surface, but it is when you consider two things: only twenty percent of Earth’s land area is still wilderness, and the rate of global deforestation is only increasing due to the growing appetite for resources of China, Brazil, Russia, and Indonesia. Whether because of construction, manufacturing, mining, forestry, or agriculture, the result is the same: wilderness pays the price while the wealthy who run the global economy walk away with the bank. It’s the very definition of unsustainable, unjust, and unforgivably wrong.

Which is why we should be doing everything we can to protect and support wilderness wherever we are. For my part I do this by raising awareness through my blog, gardening organically, reducing my consumption, buying as little as possible, and encouraging others to do the same.

But the reality is that none of these individual actions will stop the bulldozers, the pipelines, the paramilitary troops, or the endless waves of industry that are eviscerating our planet. On the contrary, what we really need is an organized, mobilized, and uncompromisingly dedicated army of concerned citizens who want to save the planet and their children’s future before it’s too late.

And one focal point for mobilizing should be our national and state parks. These are bastions of nature, freedom, wildlife, and health which are frequently within driving distance from where we live and which are doing their best to ensure that the little of wilderness that’s left has a fighting chance for the future. To that end I’ve compiled some of my latest photography from three parks in my area of central North Carolina to demonstrate exactly what it is that all of us should be fighting for.

Small creek at Eno River State Park

Eno River State Park

The trails at Eno River State Park in Durham, North Carolina are so extensive that even after exploring them on a monthly basis for the past year and a half, I haven’t covered all of them. The park includes 4,200 acres of land and conserves nine miles of riparian habitat along the banks of the Eno River, where I found this bubbling brook nestled amidst a bucolic valley that could’ve come straight out of a fairy tale. There are so many places in Eno River State Park that are equally beautiful and worthy of conservation, but the only guarantee we have that they will continue to exist in the future is our own efforts to fight on their behalf in the present.

The trails at Eno River State Park conserve not only opportunities for hiking but also opportunities for fishing. And though it may seem trivial to some, fishing is a potent reminder that our human lives are directly dependent upon the health of the land, which provides food for all of us if only we will take care of it.

Eno River from Hillsborough Riverwalk near Gold Park

Hillsborough Riverwalk

The Hillsborough Riverwalk in Hillsborough, North Carolina is a stretch of riparian habitat that includes 1.8 miles of trails which border downtown and run through several neighborhoods in the area. It’s one of the most beautiful stretches of riverfront that I’ve ever seen and demonstrates that it is indeed possible to combine some degree of human habitation with wilderness, though obviously there are limits. Even in the quaint and historic town of Hillsborough, however, there is an increasing push to construct ever more housing that will inevitably erode the health of the river and the surrounding land.

Another feature of the Hillsborough Riverwalk is the gradual reconstruction of a traditional Occaneechi village, which sits just southeast of the courthouse in downtown Hillsborough. The Occaneechi Indians lived in this area through the eighteenth century but were forcibly displaced by European colonization at the end of that century, only beginning to re-emerge from the shadows of history in the last quarter of the twentieth century. They’ve become active in historical recreation and have demonstrated some of their traditional habitation in this roundhouse. This place then is a testament to the importance not only of conserving wilderness but also of conserving cultures that have historically revered wilderness and sought to live in harmony with nature rather than in dominion over it.

View of the Eno River from the Overlook at Occoneechee Mountain

Occoneechee Mountain

The State Natural Area of Occoneechee Mountain is another wilderness area where I go hiking frequently. It covers 190 acres of beautiful terrain and straddles the Eno River along its northern and western borders; it was also part of the traditional territory of the Occaneechi Indians before they were forcibly displaced by European colonization. My understanding is that they regarded the mountain as a holy place where they could commune with their ancestors and the spirits of nature. It’s easy to understand how they could have come to that conclusion when you see for yourself the awe-inspiring beauty of the view from the Overlook, where I took this photo.

Sadly there is also mining for pyrophyllite in the area surrounding Occoneechee Mountain, though you’d never tell from the view provided by the Overlook. For the moment Occoneechee Mountain remains protected from the deforestation and contamination which are the inevitable byproducts of mining, but there’s no guarantee for the future. If Occoneechee Mountain were ever to be sold by the North Carolina Division of Parks and Recreation in order to ameliorate budgetary shortfalls, the fate of Occoneechee Mountain would be the same as that of most mining sites: it would be turned into a hollow and lifeless shell of its former self, never to be the same again.

So while there are many stretches of wilderness in my own area of central North Carolina, any or all of them could be clear-cut, bulldozed, mined, or turned into an industrial wasteland at the drop of a politician’s hat. And that is neither ethical nor acceptable to anyone with half an ounce of sense. If we want to live on a planet that continues to be habitable, we need to take action now to conserve wilderness everywhere we can, starting with our own backyards.

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27 thoughts on “The Importance of Conserving Wilderness

  1. Preservation – to me a clarion call to action, one of those you’re either part of the
    solution or part of the problem, no middle ground exists, no leaving it to others.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I agree with you 100%. The planet’s wilderness doesn’t belong to humans ONLY, we are just one of many species on this planet. We need to learn to share with other species and the next generation. We need to preserve what this earth generously offers us, if one cannot think of others, think of one’s sake. We still have to breathe the air surrounding this earth, drink the water that runs through the ground, cultivate from the earth we stand on; poisoning them will only poison us in the end. Everything living thing on this planet from plants to animals is interwoven with each other. Bringing about the death of one starts a chain reaction that will eventually kill us too. The planet itself developed everything on it including us over a long period of time and kept it in balance in the process. Runaway population growth has tipped the balance dangerously. I’m sure your’re aware of the recent huge reduction in the National parks acreage in order to facilitate industrial grabs. There is no planet B.
    Thank you for caring.

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  3. P.S. Thank you for your efforts to salvage the planet for the sake of all beings and for futiure generations. It’s amazing to think about the fact that the same people who organize in an atempt to destroy the planet also talk about “values” and are usually the ones who have more children that will have to do without health and beauty, eventually.

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  4. Even if our way of life wasn’t endangering the health of the planet it would be insane to pillage resources the way we do. The fact that continuing to mindlessly use up the finite amount of resources that exist is literally suicidal. We are a sick society. It’s difficult enough to try and comprehend how wealthy predators can do what they do as they make obscene amounts of money and live large at the expense of all living beings, but for the poor or almost poor to go along with it while getting so little in return and giving up so much is the epitome of insanity. This is a difficult issue for me to discuss. I have a hard time not becoming angry. It’s so sad…

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  5. Mark,
    I agree that it’s critically important to take action to preserve and even to enlarge what’s left of our wild areas and that the key is “organizing, mobilizing, and acting decisively.” The big question is how do we turn that key and get results. You mention some great ideas on what we can do on a personal basis but when we’re up against big money and corporate power we need to lean on the shoulders of kindred spirits. It takes more than signing petitions, calling congressional representatives, and making sensible donations. My area of NYS was faced with serious proposals for the siting of a nuclear waste dump and other toxic landfills. It took all of the above plus regimens of committed people dedicated to the use of non-violent civil disobedience to stop these threats to our rural environment. We took that nuke dump issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court that decided in our favor back in 1992. It’s a job, my friend, and if we don’t go the route, consider the alternative.

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