The Story Behind Our Name

In 1968 John Hendee and some others set out to evaluate the attitudes and values toward wilderness held by people who used national parks and forests. To do this, they devised a questionnaire that they administered to some users of wilderness areas in Washington and Oregon, and they placed the users somewhere on a scale from “wilderness purists” to “urban or conveience oriented” users. They named it the “Wildernist-Urbanist scale,” and thus the name “wildernist” was born.

Since then several studies have used the Wildernist-Urbanist scale, but in the 90s the word acquired a negative connotation. In 1996 James H. Patric and Raymond L. Harbin issued a report for The Heartland Insitute, a free-market think tank. Their report argues against a faction in environmentalism that they say only costs the taxpayers money in the name of a dogmatic, quasi-religious belief in the ill-defined concept of “wilderness.” Patric and Harbin call the members of this faction — you guessed it — “wildernists,” and they cite organizations and people such as John Muir, Dave Foreman, and Earth First! as the advocates of this “wilderness purism.”

This usage has held up among free-market ideologues for more than a decade at least. In 2010 Ron Arnold published his book Ecology Wars, in which he argues against the same “wildernism” as Patric and Harbin. Like those two, Arnold is against continued wilderness designation, arguing that this would stunt the economy. Instead, he advocates “wise use” of resources for economic purposes that supposedly still respect the environment — but only so that it can keep producing natural resources.

This magazine is by and for the “wilderness purists” detested by the free-market ideologues and polemicists for industry. We agree with Arnold, Patric, Harbin and others that the great tragedy of our situation is precisely that the health of our biosphere is inherently at odds with the health of our economy, and now we have to make a choice. We argue that the choice is clear: while the fruits of economic and technological growth certainly increase our comfort and our knowledge of the world, and while they are even sometimes inspiring, none of this matters if our earth is being destroyed. For this reason, we have decided to place the earth first, even at the expense of industry and the economy. We are, proudly, the wildernists.

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