One of the biggest debates in the environmental movement is exactly what the term “wilderness” means. It’s an import word to define since the environmental movement is largely devoted to protecting wilderness and the plants and animals that live there. Most people would probably have no problem pointing to our national park system as wilderness. It’s easy to see a place largely untrammeled by people as being wild. In this time of rapid urban sprawl and human population expansion, it’s also easy to see why wilderness should be preserved.
Okay, now think about your neighborhood. Is that wilderness? What about your backyard? While it might be a stretch to call downtown Denver “wilderness,” the city and suburbs are home to a number of plants and animals and it’s these plants and animals that are often the first (and in some extreme cases, only) exposure people have to nature. The water coming out of a culvert behind your house may not be as pristine as a glacier-fed stream somewhere in the Alps, but it’s a short walk out the back door. That closeness, that living with nature and in nature, may be more important in fostering a love of and respect for wilderness in our children than a park that’s 5 hours away that they see once a year.
I love our State and National parks, but I also love that vacant lot where the butterflies like to feed and the corner of my yard where the robins bathe in my birdbath. Do you have a favorite urban or suburban “wilderness”?