Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Science and nature conservation in the wilderness – J.B. Kirkpatrick



J.B. Kirkpatrick

The wilderness quality of land is contingent upon its remoteness and primitiveness.1,2,3   Land that maintains its primitive qualities may be traversed by roads or rail. Land that is remote from any form of mechanized access may be severely degraded by introduced animals or plants, or by pollutants from industry. In neither of these circumstances would land be considered wilderness. Past a subjective conjoint threshold of remoteness and primitiveness, an increase in either of these qualities results in an increase in wilderness quality. In this paper I address the relationship between wilderness and nature conservation and the importance of wilderness to science, partly repeating the material in an earlier paper of mine.4  However, before I subside into scientific dryness, I will present an account of my experiences of, feelings about, and attachments to the Gondwanan Tasmanian wilderness, in which I have spent much of my scientific life.
A scientist in Gondwanan wilderness
In nature the places that have the greatest variety of life are those where the physical environment has been relatively constant during geological time. The richness rises from within, species evolving to both fill and create niches. The Gondwanan supercontinent must have been a wonderfully rich and varied place, as it lay so long in a warm and constant world. Its break up is thought to have precipitated the descent into the cold climates of the last two million years. One bit of Gondwanan land lost its richness crossing the equator. In compensation it created the Himalayas, as it crashed into the Asian plate. Another portion of the supercontinent drifted to the South Pole, there to become encased in ice and almost bereft of life. The Australian plate drifted north into aridity, with only a few wet and high parts of Tasmania retaining their Gondwanic biota to any extent or in any richness. Well that is today’s version of the story anyway.
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