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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The wilderness myth : wilderness in British Columbia Davies, Eric Owen


The exploitation of natural resources in British Columbia has been strongly influenced by man's attitudes towards his environment. These attitudes have evolved from the cultural and historical legacy of Europe as well as from certain unique North American characteristics. As an ultimately irreplacable resource, wilderness serves as an interesting example of man's relationship to his environment. However, this relationship is difficult to document, requiring consideration of such diverse aspects as the cultural and historical sources of wilderness attitudes; the various values placed on wilderness; the treatment of wilderness as reflected in parks policy; and an approximate knowledge of the existing distribution of wilderness in British Columbia. Attempts to integrate these can at best only provide a personal view of the overall situation, but this seems useful if there is to be progress towards the understanding of man's relationship to his environment. The North American's perception and treatment of wilderness have been significantly affected by human history generally and North American myths specifically. Only in the last seventy to eighty years has it been possible for North Americans to regard wilderness without a great deal of fear and disdain. Up until this time the wilderness was an area of the unknown where man ventured in fear of his physical and spiritual safety. With the advent of an increasingly technocratic society, wilderness has come to serve as a significantly important symbol for a growing number of people. Wilderness stands as a symbol of man's origins and of his initial role as a member of the earth community. It symbolizes a collection of goals, ideals, and values that man may pursue as alternatives to pure material achievement. Also, because it is ultimately an irreplacable resource, wilderness preservation represents the preservation of individual freedoms and the number of alternatives available to future generations. The predominantly negative attitudes towards wilderness have facilitated and encouraged its hastened removal from the North American scene. Certainly British Columbia presently possesses vast amounts of wilderness. However, given the relatively short period of time since the date of its original European settlement, the rate of wilderness depletion must be regarded as significant. In examining wilderness losses over five time periods ranging from 1923 to 1970 it was found that the greatest alienations occurred following WW II, notably on Vancouver Island and in the mainland area south of 54°. While the rates of wilderness loss in these two regions have slowed somewhat, the mainland area north of 54° is currently experiencing wilderness loss at an accelerating rate. In 1970 less than 40% of the mainland area south of 54° could be classified as wilderness. This same figure for Vancouver Island was discovered to be less than six percent. Study of the mainland area north of 54° indicated that 84% of this area was wilderness, although this figure was based on insufficient data. In light of this wilderness view for British Columbia, eight specific recommendations on preservation policies at both the Federal and Provincial levels of Government can be outlined: clarification of purposes and objectives, greater cooperation between governments, implementation of a public education program, preservation of future alternatives, a greater emphasis on long-term considerations, and a broader basis for policy decisions.

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