By Zach Cameron
In permaculture design, the concept of zones is fundamental to planning out a space. Zones are numbered 1 to 5, where zone 1 areas are daily used spaces and zone 5 areas are unmanaged wilderness. But as Bloom and Boehnlein describe in their book Practical Permaculture for Home Landscapes, Your Community, and the Whole Earth, the idea of wilderness as unmanaged is false. Especially within the coastal regions of British Columbia like Cortes, indigenous people have intensely managed forests and other areas in order to maintain productive lands. Settlers also change the landscape constantly through activities such as logging, clearing land for agriculture and development, and many other transformative activities. So what is wilderness?
While walking through the forested area at Hank’s Beach Forest Conservation Park, we were stopped at a point in the forest and asked to look around. It took a few minutes, but eventually we saw the abrupt line in the forest. On one side of the line there was dense forest with many different ages and species of trees, on the other side there were fewer trees and a dense undergrowth of ferns and bushes. What we were looking at was the cut off between older forest and the regrowth after logging. This land had been changed by human activity whether we recognize it or not.
Another example of unseen human development was at an abandoned homestead next to the property of Oliver Kellhammer, a guest lecturer during our stay at Linnaea Farm. After a trek through dense bushes and sword ferns, we found ourselves in a relatively flat, open space of young grand fir and moss. Oliver explained that this area was actually an old tennis court. To prove it, he casually pushed aside the layers of moss to reveal an underlying layer of concrete, the white lines of the tennis court still visible, while we all stood in vague disbelief. Once again, the landscape had been completely changed by human action and we had no idea.
It is amazing how easily landscapes change due to human activities and are just as easily forgotten. When so much of nature has been influenced by human activity either directly or indirectly, it starts to be questionable whether true wilderness devoid of human influence really exists. Parks meant to conserve nature are inherently fabricated due to our attempts to keep them static in history. If areas are not conserved, they become corrupted by human impacts nobody tried to prevent from degrading them. Whether an area is protected or not, our influence as a species is so large that the chances are human influence will reach it eventually. Oliver described the reclamation of old industrial sites by nature as a sort of rewilding, but with this example the circumstances are heavily influenced by the context of human development. Could this be true wilderness?
No, there is no true wilderness, at least not the popular definition of wilderness that defines land as untouched by human hands, pristine and something to revere. We constantly try to remove ourselves from nature even though we are an integral part of it. This limits our interactions with nature, usually this means we either abuse it because we believe there to be no consequences or we don’t do anything to it for fear we will destroy it. Neither view is particularly good. Indigenous peoples around the world have found ways to survive without destroying nature, you would think the rest of the world would be able to as well. As we change, nature changes and there is nothing we can do to change that.