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Daniel Botkin

“Not only is monitoring of the state of nature required, but scientific research must be an integral part of the management of nature.” Discordant Harmonies, 195

Wetland restoration source: wikimedia

If, as Daniel Botkin argues, ecosystems are subject to unpredictable and ever-changing change, how then can we act? If we can't definitively determine how many wolves there should be, or what the proper level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is, how can we responsibly manage animal populations and set carbon targets? The Postscript to Botkin's Discordant Harmonies offers a set of instructions for a land-use scheme that can allow for real-time testing and response, in which the maintenance of ecosystems is simultaneously a site for engineering pilot tests and scientific analysis.

Botkin proposes the construction of “three kinds of natural areas that we must maintain in the future.”

The first, “no-action wilderness” would be “an area untouched by direct human actions, no matter what happens. This kind of wilderness is necessary for observation as a baseline from which scientists can measure the effects of human actions elsewhere; it is an essential calibration of the dials we should set upto monitor the state of nature. Such areas are also important because they will help in the mainenance of biological diversity. Some of them may be pleasant for recreation, but some may not be, and some may become a nature never seen before.

"The second kind, preagricultural wilderness, is an area that has the appearance of landscape or seascape that most closely matches the ideal of wilderness as it has been thought about in recent decades. In North and South America, Australia, New Zealand, and other places in which the time of arrival of modern technological man is readily dated, the idea is to create natural areas that appear as they did when first viewed by the European explorers. … If natural means simply before human intervention, then all these habiats could be claimed as natural, contrary to what people really mean and really want. What people want in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area is the wilderness as seen by the voyageurs and a landscape that gives the feeling of being untouched by people.

“The conservation area, the third type of natural region, is set aside to conserve biological diversity, either for a specific species—for example, the Kirtland's warbler—or for a kind of ecological community. Because we have so altered the landscape and have allowed inadvertently only small patches of former habitats to remain, most of these areas require active intervention on our part if they are to persist.” Discordant Harmonies, 194-195.

Botkin describes a world beyond wilderness, and beyond a nature outside of human existence. “Nature in the twenty-first century will be a nature that we make.” Discordant Harmonies, 193

Commentary

Heather Rogers

"Well who sets the true cost? Where does it start? Where does it stop? I like the idea. I think it's an important and useful concept. But how do you actually do that? If you actually did that the economy would crash. We wouldn't be able to afford to buy anything. Realistically that isn't going to work. So, how do we actually deal with what the idea of true cost pricing is pointing at? Which is, how do we not destroy nature?  Let's just do that."

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