Ever wondered what people mean when they use the word ‘wilderness’?
To most people, the concept of wilderness generally means pristine, untouched nature, free from the destructive taint of humankind. Would you agree? Many early conservationists subscribed to this idea of wild areas that had been spared the human touch, and therefore their efforts were largely aimed at restoring nature to this perceived original state of being untainted and unchanged (e.g. see Sheil and Meijaard, 2010).
However, the truth is, over the many thousands of years that humans have occupied this planet, there are very few habitats that have not actually been influenced by us in some way or another. In fact, conservationists have discovered that some ecosystems thought to have evolved naturally had actually been subtly shaped by the human communities who once lived there! Today, it’s almost impossible to find a piece of nature that hasn’t been altered or impacted in some way by human activities. This is especially true in Sundaland, the biogeographical region of Southeast Asia which includes Malaysia and Indonesia, where development has accelerated over the last few decades.
This argument forms the basis of the latest publication from Rimba’s team members. Our paper, just published in Biological Conservation, was actually written as a response to an argument put forth by Didham (2011) in Biotropica, who feels that conservationists are making a huge mistake by moving away from ‘wilderness conservation’ to focusing on ‘degraded lands’ such as logged forests. Xingli, Reuben, Sheema and their co-authors argue that in places like Malaysia and Indonesia, we don’t really have a choice anymore because there is actually very little ‘pristine wilderness’ habitat left. And ‘degraded lands’ such as logged forests, although they are no substitute for primary forests, still need to be saved as much as possible from being converted to timber plantations…or worse, oil palm.
So while we’re not saying that logged forests are as good as primary forests, what we do believe is that a forest, especially a natural one, is still way better than exotic monoculture plantations. We need a jungle out there…
Download our paper here.
NOTE: The forests referred to in our paper are mainly lowland dipterocarp forest i.e. those that are economically important for timber production. Our arguments do not extend to other forest types e.g. peat swamp forest etc.
Didham R.K. 2011. Life After Logging: Strategic Withdrawal from the Garden of Eden or Tactical Error for Wilderness Conservation? Biotropica 43(4): 393-395.
Sheil D. and Meijaard E. 2010. Purity and prejudice: Deluding Ourselves About Biodiversity Conservation. Biotropica 42(5): 566-568.