People can’t seem to agree on the meaning of the word “wilderness,” and even the “official” definition laid out in the Wilderness Act of 1964 has been interpreted in many different ways. For my senior thesis, I plan to study the numerous definitions that people have for wilderness, and why many people care about protecting and conserving this wilderness. In short, what makes a place wild, and why is that a desirable quality?
I am also interested in how wilderness areas are managed. The need for wilderness management, an oxymoronic term, arises from the fact that human impact is universal on our planet, and extends even to officially designated wilderness area. The issue of how to go about this management is also contentious—some argue that any management at all makes these areas less wild. I am looking for a connection between the ways that wilderness is defined and valued, and the way that wilderness is managed.
To do this, I hope to talk to those people who have championed the cause of wilderness designation in western Washington, and evaluate their differing definitions of the term. Presumably, what these key actors value in wilderness has had an effect on which areas have been officially designated, how these areas have been protected, and to what extent these areas have been managed. Through a study of protection guidelines and management policies for a collection of wilderness areas in western Washington, I hope to find how these people’s ideas of wilderness have played out on the ground. At the risk of going too far out on a limb, it is my belief that there are better ways of managing wilderness than others—while the object of my thesis project is not to commend or reproach different ways of managing wilderness, I want to evaluate the definitions and values that inform the actions that have already been taken to manage these areas.
[Note: In the reconfigured SOAN curriculum, seniors in the department spend their Fall semester reading somewhat comprehensively on two topics they select from the breadth of sociological and anthropological interests. For many of the seniors, that new foundation in the social scientific literature will inform the independent research projects they will design and then conduct in the Spring semester. As we approach the midway point of the Fall semester, I asked students in my thesis seminar to sketch the research projects they are configuring for their last semester at Puget Sound. At this point, these are just plans, but collectively this group of projects look great.]