Living & Playing in Wyoming’s Wild Country
A Primer on Appreciating and Protecting
the Wild Country of Wyoming
The Values of Wild Country
The sheer variety of values evoked by wild country surprises many people. Most of us are immediately drawn to the aesthetic qualities of the place – its beauty. Equally important are the scientific, historic, recreational, spiritual and ethical values that inspire protection of place.
The economic values surrounding our wild lands are complex and understanding them is vital to ensuring the sustainability of the place. Understanding the simple link between wild lands and community health is vital.
By Judith D. Schwartz, economics professor at University of Wyoming
“Nature lovers might cringe at the term "ecosystem services" to describe, say, the view of a pristine beach or a stream teeming with trout. But a growing number of experts within the scientific and economic communities say that putting real economic value on components of nature will help protect the environment and promote biodiversity. Far from cheapening nature, thinking in terms of "natural capital" can offer a way to assess the crucial but unmeasured benefit that humans derive from the nature. Ascertaining that value can then help decision makers bring environmental factors more explicitly into their planning. What kind of value are we talking about? According to research cited in the TEEB report, an annual investment of $45 billion to biodiversity conservation worldwide could safeguard about $5 trillion in ecosystem services — a benefit to cost ratio of 100 to 1.
For a site-specific example in Southern Thailand converting mangroves into commercial shrimp farms yields financial returns of about $1,220 per hectare per year. However, this does not consider the rehabilitation costs of $9,318 per hectare necessary when the area has been "shrimped out" after five or ten years. Other economic benefits the mangroves provide include: collected wood and other forest products; cultivation for off-shore fisheries; and coastal protection against storms, a total of $12,392 per hectare over the course of nine years. If the developer were accountable for the mangrove depletion, would you still want to invest in that shrimp farm?
“The reason we're losing natural capital is because it's free," says Ed Barbier, noting that we often think of conservation in terms of its costs rather than its value, and regard manufactured goods in terms of value rather than their environmental costs. Says Barbier: "When we incorporate the services of ecosystems we may start to think: maybe the costs of maintaining [the integrity of] ecosystems aren't that high compared with the benefits. Maybe the gains we get out of converting nature into commodities are not so large in comparison. The point is that we don't see that tradeoff until we go out and measure that value." The renewed interest in valuing nature gives Barbier some optimism. "If through scientific and economic analysis we can show the benefits that the natural environment offers, and show that the economic value is not zero, this gives policy makers a vehicle for addressing our fragile ecosystems," he says. Pavan Sukhdev observes, "The loss of forests worldwide amounts to somewhere between $2 trillion and $4.5 trillion a year. Losses in the U.S financial sector [in the economic downturn] were between $1 and 1.5 trillion. But the banks made the headlines." (click title to link to full text).
A Case from Wyoming: An economic analysis completed for one national forest in Wyoming (Bridger-Teton) included information about the economic impact of commercial recreation (Taylor et al 2007). Backcountry outfitting was a large contributor. The authors state that “Given the amount of seasonal range for elk on the BTNF, the forest directly supports about 33 percent of the jobs and income generated by elk hunting in the region. However, because more than 76 percent of the elk migration corridors are on the BTNF, its overall role in elk hunting is probably significantly greater.” Thus commercial and non-commercial hunters, who contribute significantly to local revenue, depend on healthy big game ranges now provided in the national forest and adjacent land.
We also value nature for social reasons – the historical significance, the benefits to community character, the fact that a connection to nature can directly and positively influence mental and physical health. America has a long history of respect for its wild country. One of the important spokespeople for the positive impacts of nature is the Rockefeller family. John D. Rockefeller contributed much of his fortune to protecting wild nature as did his son Laurance. The addition of an expanded Grand Teton National Park to the country’s national park crown jewels is part of America’s social and cultural legacy. The newest addition to Grand Teton National Park is the Laurance Rockefeller Preserve, whose mission is to inspire appreciation and reverence for the beauty and diversity of the natural world, to demonstrate the importance of protecting wild land while providing public access and to foster individual responsibility for conservation stewardship.
“Being immersed in nature reminds us of what it means to be human and helps us comprehend our place in the universe.” Laurance Rockefeller
A statewide recreation user survey conducted for the Wyoming SCORP (2008) showed that people in the state value recreation, wildlife and open space. The survey shows that:
1. Driving for pleasure/sightseeing by auto (65%)
2. Viewing natural features such as scenery, flowers, etc. (64%)
3. Hiking or walking (61%)
4. Viewing wildlife, birds, fish, etc. (61%)
5. General/other-relaxing, hanging out, escaping crowds, noise, etc. (60%)
6. Picnicking and family day gatherings (58%)
The ecological benefits of wild lands are more obvious. Although the concepts are ancient, the development of the science of ecology in the 20th century has helped us understand the interconnection of natural processes.
Ecology is the study of the relationships between organisms and their environment. As a science, it embraces several branches: Physiological ecology focuses on the relationships between individual organisms and the physical and chemical features of their environment. Behavioral ecologists study the behaviors of individual organisms as they react to their environment. Population ecology is the study of processes that affect the distribution and abundance of animal and plant populations.
Community ecology studies how communities of plant and animal populations function and is organized. Ecosystem ecology examines large-scale ecological issues, ones that often are framed in terms of measures such as biomass, energy flow, and nutrient cycling. Applied ecology applies ecological principles to the management of populations of crops and animals.
Theoretical ecologists provide simulations of particular practical problems and develop models of general ecological relevance. The outcome of all this work is the important capacity to understand and predict how changes in nature will impact animals, plants and their communities.
In addition, the ecological protection that Wilderness provides benefits everyone – clean air and water being two primary ecological goods that result from protected landscapes.
Ecological goods and services or 'EG&S' are the benefits arising from the ecological functions of healthy ecosystems. Such benefits accrue to all living organisms, including animals and plants, rather than to humans alone. However, there is a growing recognition of the importance to society that ecological goods and services provide for health, social, cultural, and economic needs.
Examples of ecological goods include clean air, and abundant fresh water. Examples of ecological services include purification of air and water, maintenance of biodiversity, decomposition of wastes, soil and vegetation generation and renewal, pollination of crops and natural vegetation, groundwater recharge through wetlands, seed dispersal, greenhouse gas mitigation, and aesthetically pleasing landscapes. The products and processes of ecological goods and services are complex and occur over long periods of time.
There are many ways to ensure the protection of these services. All kinds of protected wild lands do part of the job whether they are public or private. Wilderness areas are the core of this growing effort to protect the health and viability of ecosystems.
There is a critical relationship between pristine habitat and wildlife success. One of the primary reasons for protecting the wild lands of Wyoming is to protect the wildlife species that populate the state. The long term viability of wildlife in Wyoming is directly tied to the protection of vast wild spaces.
In a poll taken of Wyoming voters in 2007, sponsored by the Ruckelshaus Institute, the Wyoming Stock Growers Association, and the Wyoming Chapter of The Nature Conservancy, 73% of respondents agreed with the statement that wildlife is an important part of their daily lives. In addition, 74% of voters supported the “setting aside of more state money to protect land, air, water, wildlife habitat, and ranch lands,” with 37% indicating they “strongly favor” this concept.
In addition to protecting our wild heritage in Wyoming citizens are motivated by doing what is right or good. An important American spokesperson for the ‘land ethic’ was Aldo Leopold. Here is what he said about our connection to the land in 1948:
The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.... A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these "resources", but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. By land is meant all of the things on, over, or in the earth.... The land is one organism. Its parts, like our own parts, compete with each other and co-operate with each other. The competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the co-operations. You can regulate them--cautiously--but not abolish them. [Coming Soon!] For many people, the values of wild lands are very personal; some would call the value spiritual. By that many people refer to what the awe and grandeur of the wild landscape produces in them. To contemplate a life without wild nature is impossible for many and a very negative thing for humankind. "Our kinship with Earth must be maintained; otherwise, we will find ourselves trapped in the center of our own paved-over souls with no way out."
The outstanding scientific discovery of the twentieth century is not television, or radio, but rather the complexity of the land organism. Only those who know the most about it can appreciate how little we know about it. The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant: "What good is it?" If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.
Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, and Sketches Here and There, 1948
The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of the community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals, or collectively: the land.... A land ethic of course cannot prevent the alteration, management, and use of these "resources", but it does affirm their right to continued existence, and, at least in spots, their continued existence in a natural state. Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. By land is meant all of the things on, over, or in the earth.... The land is one organism. Its parts, like our own parts, compete with each other and co-operate with each other. The competitions are as much a part of the inner workings as the co-operations. You can regulate them--cautiously--but not abolish them.
For many people, the values of wild lands are very personal; some would call the value spiritual. By that many people refer to what the awe and grandeur of the wild landscape produces in them. To contemplate a life without wild nature is impossible for many and a very negative thing for humankind.
"Our kinship with Earth must be maintained; otherwise, we will find ourselves trapped in the center of our own paved-over souls with no way out."