The Micro-Wildernesses of Rural System

Conservationists have been butting heads with industry for decades, vying to set aside this land or monkey wrench that logging operation. But though Rural System is dedicated to revitalizing and protecting natural resources, it seeks an alternative to the widely accepted cut-and-dry conservation approach.A bubbling stream and the forest around it are a potential micro-wilderness: a pocket of untouched land in the Rural System

Clearer and clearer is this motive, which seems to subtend so much of our writing these past weeks: Rural System is seeking to close a gap between people and the land, between humans and nature. Conservation cannot be limited to setting aside wilderness areas while we do whatever we please to damage the land outside of these reserves.  Rather, conservation must be an awareness that enters all our decisions regarding land use, even in our own backyards.

The Leaver societies described in Ishmael were marked by the unity of their lives with nature, not by leaving it alone. Likewise, Rural System would like to form communities in rural America again to work and live on the land.

And as Risa showed us in The Value of Seemingly Vile Activities, even a wilderness area needs management. A wilderness area can no longer be left alone, inviolate, because a host of impacts from human activities threaten from all four dimensions. We have recent air, soil, and water pollution leeching in from surrounding areas. Invasive species creep at the borders, and disease raids from host to host. As if this weren’t enough, from the temporal dimension we have a legacy of toxins in the soil and uncertainty of legal regulations on pollution in the future. The land needs management if only to protect from these basic threats.

So what sort of preservation would Rural System propose, if it will not simply set land aside? Is all Rural System land intended for harvest and use? I went to straight to the source, the founder, for answers.

Dr. Giles explained that, “there are places on private lands that are micro-wildernesses. Rivers, steep slope, or other natural barriers made them not lucrative to harvest and so we have these areas that were effectively preserved without any action whatsoever. They’re at least as good if not better than state wilderness preserves. These micro-wildernesses are the areas of focus, and if they are found in the analysis of private lands under management they are designated as ‘reserve areas.’”

This is the closest Rural System would come to creating wilderness preserves. But even these would be subject to diverse uses as suggested by Redefining the Farm: it’s Not Just Science, it’s Survival. The designation as “reserve area” would simply limit the list of possible uses evaluated by VNodal, the prescriptive software subsystem behind Rural System management decisions. Reserve areas would still be managed for profit, but the management decisions would be made with the added concern of preserving or increasing ecosystem health (one possible index being biodiversity).

In this way, we think we can preserve or even enhance the “micro-wildernesses” on enterprise environments while continuing to put them to profitable use.

What do you think? Is it possible to preserve wild areas while continuing to use the resources on them?

If it is possible, what kinds of activities are acceptable as well as profitable?


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About Laurel Sindewald

Laurel is an alumna of Warren Wilson College with a BS in Conservation Biology and a BA in Philosophy. She is a writer for Rural System, Inc.

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