Thursday, August 20, 2009

A map of common ground

This bill increases wildness, protects endangered species, and detoxifies — once and for all — the word “wilderness.”

In an op-ed piece by Yale Environment 360, a publication of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, writer Rick Bass offers a look at the collaborative process that has resulted in the “Forest Jobs and Recreation Act” (known as the "Tester Bill" after Senator Jon Tester", which would be the first wilderness legislation, the author claims, in Montana in 26 years. Find the original op-ed here.

I would love to see such collaboration here in Otaki Village. In a recent Asahi Shimbun 朝日新聞 article (no longer available online, but I can send copies to anyone interested--Japanese only), the author quotes residents as saying that national forests are "foreign country" and that local people have little or no say in management decisions. On the other hand, officials from the forestry agency are quoted in the article as saying that they consult with village residents once and a while and that they are listened to. Obviously there is a disconnect.

The quote at the top of this post is from Rick Bass. I like his choice of words when he talks about "detoxifying" the concept of wilderness. I'm not sure if it is his intention, but I'd like to think that he is posing a critique of "wilderness" as it is used in the U.S., as an area untouched by humans. In Japan, it's 自然 shizen, usually translated as "nature", that is the conceptual stumbling block that impedes discussions of how to best use lands.

Terms like "wilderness" or "shizen", with there associated conceptual baggage, are too easily grasped upon, purified, politicized and used by one group or another to forward their own agenda while attempting to intellectually pulverize "opposing" agendas. It seems to me akin to the increasingly willy-nilly use of the term "Nazi" to express dissent of the Obama administration's healthcare proposal.

Good democracies, like good ecologies, demand open space and diversity. Our human languages, unfortunately, are often not geared to this. It's important to employ critique and self-reflexivity to make sure that we don't get bogged down in the world of words. . .which is often much more complex than the physical world.


Adam Henne said...

Hm. I don't know Rick Bass, but I know a little bit about environmental debates here in the West. My first instinct would be that "detoxify 'wilderness'" refers not so much to our critical suspicion of the 'pristine' wilderness concept. I'd wager it has to do with the political toxicity of the word around these parts, where "wilderness" = "bad for business" = "back-East yuppie bullshit" = "federal government" = "socialism". But this is a detoxified "wilderness" even the cowboys can love! That's an underinformed guess, though, and maybe I'm just being cranky.

KenElwood said...

Eric, sashiburi ! As always, good posting. I like to think that in 5o years from now, when you and I are in our 7o's, over every mountain there'll be a nameless ruin stranger than the last. And buried in every field there're artifacts of forgotten technologies, some of which still work. Wilderness'll be so diverse that old categories like "swamp" and "forest" no longer apply -- every local habitat will be something new.

Eeer, back to present day Japan, Thought I'd report some news that you might be interested in:

Back in January, February, March and April of this year, 2oo9, while many immigrant workers were losing their factory jobs and the J-gov was politely asking them to go home, there was -- just as I suspected at the time but couldn't confirm -- a flux of immigrants heading to the hills for forestry work. At present, I've a few Uncle in-laws in the hills of Eastern Aichi who're confirming it, and I even found a short article about it online:

Anyway, just thought i'd share that with you.


Taintus said...


Yes, I forget that you're right in the thick of it there in Laramie. I definitely had my fill of "wilderness" bickering growing up in Utah. . .oi.


Those nameless ruins are already starting to appear. . .wonder if they will continue. I'm sure there's a good photography book to be made of abandoned pachinko parlors and such. Anyway, let's wait for the new wilds.

Thanks for the link about the foreign workers. There's a whole other dissertation's worth of research to be done there I'd assume. Interesting.