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The Trouble with Preservation, or, Getting Back to the Wrong Term for Wilderness Protection: A Case Study at Point Reyes National Seashore

How “untrammeled” must a wilderness be at the time it is designated as such? Should the intent behind designating wilderness areas be to protect existing areas that meet the official definition, or to create new ones through management actions? This question is explored by looking at the historical evolution of the Philip Burton Wilderness Area in Point Reyes National Seashore, which gradually has been transformed from a dairy ranching landscape to an apparently pristine wilderness. In the process, the history of human habitation and use of the area has been downplayed or overlooked. This case raises questions about the interplay between considerations of ecological functioning, recreation demands, and simple aesthetics in defining managed wilderness. It also suggests that new terminology for wilderness protection that differentiates between varying degrees of previous human use could help to avoid the erasure of history from preserved natural areas.

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