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For thousands of years, humans have been reliant and aware that we are all dependent upon other life to support us. If the caribou or bison herd didn’t come near the village or the salmon failed to materialize in the streams, people starved.

We humans intuitively understood that we had an obligation and responsibility to protect and respect the natural world. And if we did so, the natural world would respect and provide for us, as well as all the “others,” meaning the rest of creation.

One of the tragedies of modern civilized life is that we can easily delude ourselves into thinking we have no connection or need for nature. And this is a dangerous tendency, as even urban people still depend completely on what the natural world provides in terms of water, cleansing our air, pollination, soil building and many other nature-based factors.

I would argue that one of the great benefits of wilderness and park designation is that it is a recognition that we do rely on nature, and more importantly, that we must share the land with the rest of life on Earth. It is a way to counter the humankind oppression of the Earth and provide for the well-being and liberation of fellow travelers on the planet.

Given that humans have modified and completely reorganized much of the planet to suit our needs, it is not asking too much that we show some humility and self-discipline by putting some parts of the Earth off-limits to human domination and colonization. That is what we do when we set aside protected landscapes like wilderness areas or national parks.

That is one reason why the cries of mountain bikers, ORVers and other who put their own recreational interests ahead of wildlands protection by suggesting we should “share” the land with “everyone” exemplifies the selfishness that is such a dark side of the human condition.

One of the best human attributes is altruism. When we help others, often sacrificing our own desires and well-being so that others can survive, we share the Earth, so all can flourish.

In a sense, a legal wilderness designation is a form of altruism. While there is an evolutionary theory that suggests when we are altruistic, we are furthering our own long-term evolutionary success. That does not diminish the fact that when help others we are often doing so without expectation of direct compensation or benefit.

Providing a place for the "others" the creatures and lifeforms that we "share" this planet with is the motivation behind the creation of parks and wilderness areas.

Wilderness is the “gold standard” for conservation (national parks with a wilderness overlay is the best). If one is concerned about providing space and “sharing” the land, then supporting wilderness designation is by far the best alternative. Other kinds of land management designations like “wildlife management area,” “conservation area” or “recreation area” provide less protection.

Framing these issues as merely a division of recreational opportunities ignores the “others,” whether it is grizzly bears, wolverine, bighorn sheep or cougars, as well as many smaller less obvious animals.

When U.S. Sen. Steve Daines suggest that wilderness study areas preclude access for other recreationists, or some Montanans talk about “sharing” the land, they are ignoring the “others.” Only 2.7 percent of the United States is designated wilderness. Is it too much to ask that we provide space for the non-human life that we “share” the Earth with?

George Wuerthner is an ecologist who has published 38 books, including "Protecting the Wild: Parks and Wilderness Foundation for Conservation."

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