What is Wild?

Photo from Tom Wiercioch.

Photo from Tom Wiercioch.

After a day of workshops, a lot of content, and little sleep, I thought it would be a good idea to try and answer a question for this blog based on my experiences at the Wild Forum - What is wild?

The Wild Forum started this week at WILD10. 127 workshops in three days ranging from discussions on community science to specific habitat restoration in Spain. Presentations, photography galleries, videos, and debates have kept Salamanca bustling. I can't imagine a better venue than the 800 year old Universidad de Salamanca. The workshops I have had the pleasure of going to have got me thinking about what wild is.

The workshops I have gotten to attend so far have have been diverse and engaging. My first was a presentation by members from the "WOLF: Wildlife & Farmers" organization. A group that promotes measures and actions that make it possible for both livestock and wolves as an example of large predators living together. The project is based in Spain, but has members in Portugal, Romania, and Estonia, and aims to boost sustainable development and maintain diversity.

I spent an afternoon with indigenous groups from around the world who are fighting against industrial development and industrial extraction in their respected regions. The Sami people from Northern Sweden were shocked by their governments support of mining projects in their region. They took this as a call to action and have been using media and university support to keep the largest untouched area in Northern Europe wild.

Other indigenous groups from Australia, Guatemala, and the Philippines are fighting to be a part of the industrial development in the regions that their people have lived in for thousands of years and, in most cases, have sacred sites.

What stood out to me was evident when I started comparing the different approaches these groups had when it came to developing a relationship with their natural environment. To me, it seemed like they could be organized into two groups; the wild and the used.

The wild group, like the Sami people, are interested in keeping their region "untouched". The used group is trying to be a part of the management of their natural environment. The indigenous groups of the Philippines, Australia, and Guatemala are trying to be a part of the development within their natural land. From trying to engage mining companies, international groups, media, to building their own organizations, these groups are using the land.

A grey area between the two is the WOLF: Wildlife & Farmers group, who is trying to reintroduce predators back into their natural habitat. A habitat that is being used by local farmers who have traditionally not liked having the wolf and other predators around their livestock.

I wonder if these two sections are even applicable, as the more I think about it, the more the grey area becomes prevalent. The split between being a wild place and a place that is being used by humans isn't so clear. A definition of wild could not happen without humans using nature. When humanity started using nature for agriculture, land that wasn't being used became wild. To further the point, many wilderness groups started when emissions from cars became an issue.

My day with indigenous groups and a European group made it seem like there are two trends with regarded to the definition of wild, but I seem to have come out more confused. Maybe it is the GOAL of wilderness to be 'untouched' (but, can it really?), or used ethically and sustainably. However, one cannot exist without the other. Defining wilderness could not have occurred without the experience of the opposite. It is an interesting notion, and I think my little exploration here is a good lens to see what different groups that are involved with the environment are trying to present.