The Decline of Wildness

During the early history of our species, we humans were intimately tied to natural ecosystems, playing the role of both predator and prey.  Once we established permanent settlements and began to cultivate crops and domesticate animals (about 10,000 years ago), that relationship was lost and human activity has since threatened the welfare of those ecosystems.  Industrialization greatly accelerated this diversion and, today, most humans fail to acknowledge our direct connection to the natural world.

During my recent road trip to Montana, I was constantly reminded of this fact.  Despite the fabulous landscape, the effects of human activity were impossible to ignore: fences, trailers, houses, barns, signs, roadways, livestock and discarded material were part of every scene.  Indeed, it was often difficult to take photos without including products of human culture.  In Yellowstone National Park, a place we associate with wilderness and wildlife, the pressure of human activity was even more difficult to deny; placid elk and bison (though potentially dangerous) were oblivious of the throngs that shared their domain.  Auto parades clogged many of the roadways and humans swarmed about the most famous features of the Park.

Of course, I was one of those invaders.  Had I the time, energy and equipment to hoof my way into the wilderness, I might have escaped the crowds but we all know that even Earth's most pristine sites are now deluged with adventurous tourists.  The sad fact is that almost all of our planet's ecosystems are becoming less wild; abused for their resources and explored for entertainment, they suffer from the impact of a species that is too often in denial of its deleterious effects and seemingly intent on expanding access wherever possible.