An award-winning author and journalist described the current challenges faced by the conservation movement in the United States as a continuation of an ongoing paradox in his Jan. 30 remarks at Franklin & Marshall. David Quammen, three-time recipient of the National Magazine Award, discussed “Protected Lands: The Paradox of the Cultivated Wild” at the College’s Common Hour, a community conversation scheduled every Thursday classes are in session.
Quammen has written extensively on the history of science and human impacts on the natural world, including emerging diseases. He told the audience that today’s conservation efforts “are really about biological diversity and preserving the integrity of ecosystems, which require large, unspoiled areas of land, in the face of ever-expanding human populations.” He said this challenge dates back centuries in the U.S., and pointed to Yellowstone National Park as a prime example.
“Many people, including Ken Burns, have described our national parks as one of our country’s best ideas,” Quammen said. “That is probably true, but even the act of creating a national park points to this paradox of the cultivated wild. Formed in 1872, Yellowstone is our oldest national park. It is also our largest, at nearly 3,500 square miles. Yet most scientists say that the Yellowstone ecosystem is close to 10 times that area.”
“So while we admire the bold and noble vision of those who established the park, we also recognize the paradox,” he continued. “How can you possibly draw what is essentially a square on a map and say everything inside that square is officially ‘wild’—and that you will create and enforce rules to keep it that way? And hasn’t that action meant that everything outside those lines, even if only by a mile or two, does not get the benefit of those rules and is in danger of being tamed and modernized?"