Myth 1: Wilderness are human-exclusion zones

Myth: Wilderness are human-exclusion zones (Gomes-Pampa and Kaus 1992, Adams and Mulligan 2002, Cronon 1996), and variants of this which claim that wilderness victimizes the disabled (as vehicles and roads are excluded from wilderness)

Truth: Humans are prevented from exploiting resources in wilderness and from the use of modern technology (e.g. off road vehicles) for travel. One of the main reasons for having wilderness areas is for people to be able to enjoy the special experiences they offer. Therefore they are actually ‘people zones’.Wilderness management does exclude permanent habitation. Note the emphasis on the world ‘permanent’. Wilderness has the same access today that it had up until 1788 in Australia – by foot or canoe. It does not exclude human visitation (for weeks at a time). Surely the key point to consider is that the alleged access 'restrictions' are a consequence of natural conditions, not an action of humans. Greater access would require damaging the natural area. Permanent habitation today means (almost universally) roads, power-lines, garbage, water supply, all of which add up to substantial human impact. Wilderness management means some people with disabilities cannot visit some parts of wilderness. However, 90% of NSW is extensively roaded - so ethically does any particular group have the right to demand that all natural areas be roaded for them to visit them?

There are thousands of kilometres of public access roads provided within national parks outside wilderness areas, providing endless scope for outings, including outings to the edges of all wilderness areas. Roads cause substantial environmental impact (Mackey et al 1998). The more they are used (e.g. firetrails) the greater the impact. It is notable that disability organizations themselves do not call for roads to be built into wilderness. It is only those seeking to exploit wilderness for profit that argue this. In reply to such arguments, it has been pointed out that ‘we do belong, but not everywhere’ (Nash 2001), and that ‘neither the Wilderness Act nor meaningful wilderness designation requires that no humans have ever been present, only that any such peoples have left the lands “untrammelled”’ (Rolston (2001). The ‘denial of human presence’ is a thus a classic instance of the setting up of a ‘straw person’ to be knocked over (Hay 2002). The ‘human exclusion’ argument is usually put forward by those seeking to ‘exploit natural resources for job creation and profits’, where such capitalists see wilderness as unfairly limiting the exercise of the free market (Soule 2002). Soule explains that ‘with rare exceptions, such as in the former Soviet Union in the late Twentieth Century, wilderness areas do not exclude human uses’. It has been reported that the myth of human exclusion is used to:

justify the occupancy and economic use of the last wild places. Some governments in South America – under pressure from humanitarian activists – are now encouraging people to settle in National Parks. This policy will destroy nature reserves because of the high birth rates of agrarian people and because indigenes will all be infected by globalization and consumerism. The wheel of road building, clearing, farming, loss of fertility and abandonment turns, churns, and kills the land community. (Soule 2002)

It is our technological culture that per force excludes permanent modern settlements from wilderness:

The idea that wilderness can include all primates except for the genus Homo is ridiculous. It is not ridiculous however to exclude people living profligate … lifestyles (including Callicott and me) from permanent habitation in wilderness areas. Even to exclude “native” people from some reserves is not ridiculous when these people have acquired guns, snowmobiles … It is not exclusion from these reserves that separates us from nature; it is our culture and our lifestyles, which had already separated us long before we began designating wilderness areas.(Noss 2003b)

The ‘human exclusion’ or ‘lock out’ myth is possibly the most common one made about wilderness, often by those who either seek to exploit wilderness resources, or gain access for vehicles and horses. It relates to the debate on whether humans are ‘part of nature’. To be ‘part of nature’ has been seen as a justification for modern technological settlements and motorised access into wilderness, without any consideration of the impact these technologies cause. ‘Exclusion’ is of course a very strong word, used deliberately to give the feeling that people are being victimised and actually ‘locked out’ from relating to nature.


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