For thousands of years, humans have been reliant and aware that we are all dependent upon other life to support us. If the caribou or bison herd didn’t come near the village or the salmon failed to materialize in the streams, people starved.

We humans intuitively understood that we had an obligation and responsibility to protect and respect the natural world. And if we did so, the natural world would respect and provide for us as well as all the “others” meaning the rest of creation.

One of the tragedies of modern civilized life is that we can easily delude ourselves into thinking we have no connection or need for Nature. And this is a dangerous tendency, as even urban people still depend completely on what the natural world provides in terms of water, cleansing our air, pollination, soil building, and many other factors, even if we no longer need to directly kill a bison or capture a salmon to survive.

I would argue one of the great benefits of wilderness and park designation is that it is a recognition that we do rely on nature, and more importantly that we must share the land with the rest of life on Earth.  It is a way to counter the humankind oppression of the Earth and provide for the well-being and liberation of fellow travelers on the planet.

Given that humans have modified and completely reorganized much of the planet to suit our needs, it is not asking too much that we show some humility and self-discipline by putting some parts of the Earth off-limits to human domination and colonization. That is what we do when we set aside protected landscapes like wilderness areas or national parks.

That is one reason why the cries of mountain bikers, ORVers and other who put their own recreational interests ahead of wildlands protection by suggesting that wilderness advocates should “share” the land with “everyone” exemplifies the selfishness that is such a dark side of the human condition.

One of the best human attributes is altruism.  When we help others, often sacrificing our own desires and well-being so that others can survive, we share the Earth so all can flourish.

In a sense, wilderness designation is a form of altruism. While there is an evolutionary theory that suggests when we are altruistic, we are furthering our own long-term evolutionary success. That does not diminish the fact that when help others we are often doing so without expectation of direct compensation or benefit.

Providing a place for the “others” the creatures and lifeforms that we “share” this planet with is the motivation behind the creation of parks and wilderness areas.

Wilderness is the “Gold Standard” for conservation (national parks with a wilderness overlay is the best). If one is concerned about providing space and “sharing” the land, then supporting wilderness designation is by far the best alternative. Suggesting other kinds of land management designations like “Wildlife Management Area” “Conservation Area” or “Recreation Area” provides less protection.

Framing these issues as merely a division of recreational opportunities ignores the “others” whether it is grizzly bears, wolverine, bighorn sheep or cougars as well as many smaller less obvious animals.

When these other recreationists talk about “sharing” the land, I expect wilderness advocates to point out that only 2.7% of the United States is designated wilderness.  We must provide far more protected landscapes for the non-human life that we “sharing” the Earth., and by this sharing, we demonstrate the best human trait-that of sacrifice and consideration for others-with the others here being the non-human natural world.

About The Author

George Wuerthner

George Wuerthner is an ecologist and former hunting guide with a degree in wildlife biology

19 Responses to Share the Land

  1. avatar Stephen Corry says:

    “We must share the land with the rest of life on Earth,” but not of course with the tribal peoples destroyed through the theft of their lands for “wilderness,” as usual, they are not mentioned in this article.

  2. avatar Ida Lupine says:


  3. avatar N. Pierce says:

    Thank you! How comforting to see these views presented in such a clear and compassionate way. If everyone understood that we need to respect other creatures and support their lifestyle no matter what it is, how much better we would all be.

  4. avatar John R says:

    Good write up George. Read E. O. Wilson – Half Earth.

  5. and thus, in wilderness is our salvation.
    Thanks for this piece, George.

  6. avatar Rob says:

    Good thoughts as always. I however have a problem with the term “sharing” wilderness with other users. Wilderness areas are open for everyone to enjoy in the way that the wilderness Act set them up to be enjoyed – on nature’s terms. What these folks are asking is not to share the land but to undo the special protections that make these places wilderness. It is like asking the mountain bike community to “share” their mountain bike trails with automobiles. That’s not sharing, that would be turning their trails into roads. Just as opening up wilderness to bikes and ORVs would fundamentally change wilderness to some lesser category of protected land.

  7. avatar Val says:

    Thanks very much for this, George. These are the conversations we need to be having. One thing: when we speak about “sharing” the land, we may be conveying a sense of ownership that we need to be careful about. We have a responsibility to coexist with nonhuman animals but they don’t recognize the boundaries of areas that are “set aside” for them by humans; so we will always have to revisit our assumptions about what “belongs” to whom. Gratitude for your work. Best, Val

    • avatar Ida Lupine says:

      “One thing: when we speak about “sharing” the land, we may be conveying a sense of ownership that we need to be careful about.”

      ^^Very true. Thanks.

      • avatar Val says:

        Language is tricky, isn’t it, when we are reaching for new expressions of relational intention. “Sharing” seems to ring a bell here and it is by no means a criticism of the article – I don’t pretend to have the answers. To me, if I share something it means I am willing to give part of what I have to someone who needs it. In the instance of wildlife, or First Nations, or any life that stands in the way of the industrial complex, what is being shared was taken by force in the first place. It’s tricky but well worth contemplation at this time of change, and I really appreciate the thoughtful comments on this article. Thank you!

        • avatar Ida Lupine says:

          Oh no – I know you didn’t mean to criticize the article, and I don’t either. The article is important for bringing this up for discussion. Sharing by itself is a good thing.

          It’s the shade of the meaning, entitlement of land and everything on it, that is dismaying, a ‘might makes right’ thinking that I don’t like. First it was conquering, now it’s one big global juggernaut that is alarming.

          • avatar Val says:

            Yes, I didn’t think any criticism was intended. Just agreeing with you, Ida. “The shade of the meaning” is a good way to put it. Do you think that “partnering” with other species would convey a more relational term?

            • avatar Ida Lupine says:

              🙂 Thanks!

              Partnering, possibly – although we should know when to leave them alone. They may not want us as a partner. Consideration, respect, all those things we need to think about.

              Henry Beston’s quote says it all to me:

              We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate for having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein do we err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours, they move finished and complete, gifted with the extension of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings: they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.

              • avatar Val says:

                I too appreciate that quote, and the point about leaving them alone is very astute. Grizzly Bears, for instance, don’t want us in their space! Yet, what if we DID consider other species our “brethren”, each with their own unique needs but not of less moral value than humans. Could we then partner with respect? Just a question I ask myself because commodifying other species, and other humans, according to western industrial worldview isn’t working out so well.

                • avatar Ida Lupine says:

                  Yes. Respect that there are other beings out their who depend on the land and water and air just as we do, and to take that into (some) consideration when we do things. It’s an industrial worldview, and even a religious worldview, and we have been taught that we are the only being that matters.

                  A lot has been done in the past that cannot be repaired, and people of today and beyond are going to have to accept that things cannot be as they once were – if we value other life, or ourselves more, and let them go to save ourselves, will be the moral choice we will have to make.

                • avatar Ida Lupine says:

                  I think we have to respect another being’s right to just ‘be’, without interference by us.

                  So perhaps ‘silent partner’ is the best description, if we want to do things to help them, or to repair the damage we’ve done to them.

  8. avatar Mary Finelli says:

    Thank you very much for the consideration given to nonhuman animals with this article. Let’s not only set aside a decent amount of quality habitat for them but also genuinely respect them by leaving them in peace there with no fishing or hunting.

  9. avatar Chris zinda says:

    Right on, George.

  10. avatar Nancy Ostlie says:


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February 2018
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‎"At some point we must draw a line across the ground of our home and our being, drive a spear into the land and say to the bulldozers, earthmovers, government and corporations, “thus far and no further.” If we do not, we shall later feel, instead of pride, the regret of Thoreau, that good but overly-bookish man, who wrote, near the end of his life, “If I repent of anything it is likely to be my good behaviour."

~ Edward Abbey

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