Wilderness Valuation

Article excerpt

Wilderness. There was a time when the beauty of the land was everywhere, running on for miles in any direction. Today not much wilderness remains. And wild, untamed places shrink as humanity continues to grow. Only 2% of the lower 48 states is protected as wilderness.

The future of wilderness in this country is being hotly debated. Questions and controversy about wilderness preservation continue. Difficult decisions, especially concerning wildlands in the West, are yet to be made.

Many justifications for wilderness preservation exist. Wilderness advocates use philosophical arguments that defend wilderness designations. Scientists and scholars study the benefits to people and nature from wildland conservation. Decision-makers examine the quantitative measures of wilderness value. In fact, each of these views has a place in decisions concerning wilderness preservation.

Benefits to Individuals, Societies, Others

Wilderness preservation provides benefits to individuals, societies, plants and animals, and ecosystems. These benefits sometimes are called wilderness values. Wilderness values can be categorized into three broad areas: personal benefits, social benefits, and intrinsic benefits. Personal wilderness benefits include developmental, therapeutic, physical health, self-sufficiency, social identity, educational, spiritual, creative, symbolic, and nurturance benefits. Social wilderness benefits include historic cultural, quality of life, nature preservation, and economic benefits. Intrinsic wilderness benefits include organism, species, and ecosystemic benefits.

The process of considering and estimating wilderness worth is known as wilderness valuation. What follows is a discussion of several wilderness valuation systems and their strengths and weaknesses.

Valuation Theory

Wilderness valuation is the process of considering and estimating the importance or worth of wilderness preservation. Most talk about wilderness values surrounds the issues of wilderness benefits. Those wilderness benefits form the center of a three-dimensional valuation theory. Figure 1 on the next page graphically represents the wilderness valuation theory. Wilderness benefits most commonly come to mind while considering wilderness values, but the deeply held beliefs and desires, or values, of individuals, societies, and nature greatly influence which benefits will be recognized and deemed important. Also, the wilderness benefits sought and achieved by individuals, societies, and nature directly influence the perceived worth of wilderness.

The left side of the Figure 1 represents the way that value ideals lead to benefit attribution and then to worth recognition. This valuation theory roughly coincides with three key aspects of wilderness valuation systems. Each justification for wilderness incorporates one or more of these valuation aspects. For instance, an economic valuation system includes a theoretical basis, a set of wilderness benefits it considers, and quantitative methods used to estimate the monetary worth of those benefits. As human, societal, and intrinsic belief systems lead to activities that seek the realization of wilderness benefits, philosophical foundations lead to a particular set of wilderness benefits that receive assessment. Recognizing the worth of wilderness benefits in money, time, effort, or sacrifice invested coincides with the various valuing methods used to measure wilderness value. Wilderness values are influenced by value ideals and, in turn, influence the final worth of wilderness. Likewise, wilderness valuation systems are based on a philosophical or theoretical base, assess some compatible set of wilderness values, and measure or assess the magnitude of wilderness benefits with some valuing method.

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Wilderness Valuation Systems

Wilderness valuation systems build on a philosophical base and assess wilderness benefits through a valuing methodology. …