I'm working through edits of a chapter on wilderness and geospatial technology. I will make the case that GIS is not by nature anathema to the wild, wildness, or wilderness. My argument will be toward the threat of geospatiality and with emphasis on the need for critical reflection in terms implementation of the tool.
Before I can demonstrate the threat I need to describe what is threatened. Curt Meine (1992), biographer and scholar of American wilderness pioneer Aldo Leopold has shared some helpful insights. He noted that just as the case is made in our time, humans belong to their engaged role in the landscape. The arguments of total withdrawal from wild places by humanity are as fruitful as an argument to abandon Earth for some other outpost. However, we must also guard against leaning into resourcism.
To quote Foreman, the principles of resourcism are:
1) Professionalism—Trained experts are best qualified to manage natural resources and public lands.
2) Progressivism/Optimism—Progress as a secular religion of material, informational, moral, and organizational advances is key to resourcism, as is an intensely optimistic view of the future benefits of wise management.
3) Engineering—The science behind resourcism is manipulative and controlling—not pure science, but rather technology and engineering.
4) Resources for people—Resource management by experts is to result in benefits for everyone. (In principle this standard is still touted; in practice it is corrupted in favor of those with wealth and political power.)
5) Multiple Use—Properly managed lands can produce multiple uses of timber, minerals, forage, water, wildlife, and recreation, often on the same acre.
6) Sustained Yield—Lands are to be managed for the maximum they can produce on a sustained basis without harming the future productivity of the land.
7) Utilitarianism—Resources and the land are here to be used to produce goods and services for humans.
Now, there's much to gather from those seven points. I'd like to focus primarily on the manipulative control of our neighborhoods and wildhoods. In the challenging drive to explain our world around us, many in conservation may have lost sight of understanding. Perhaps we need to be reminded to "see the beauty, as well as the utility, of the whole, and know that the two cannot be separated. We love (and make intelligent use of) what we have learned to understand" (Leopold, quoted in Meine, 1992, p. 137). It is important to stress the importance of tracking actions of trammeling the wilderness (actions that intentionally manipulate the mesh of ecological relations). How stewards stand in relation to the land must be considered before we track trammeling actions. I will argue that it's important for stewards to stand in the Earth rather than on it. Being in the earth is true understanding. Stewards must recognize their role in the earth and under the sky.
Read that third principle again: Engineering—The science behind resourcism is manipulative and controlling—not pure science, but rather technology and engineering. The argument my coauthor and I use in our chapter articulates the case given by Heidegger in his essay, "The Question Concerning Technology". This essay was the final draft but if we go back to the lectures upon which it was based we find even stronger points.
Instead of walking us through Heidegger's argument I'll just share the image below. It surmises the matter. Predicating the meaning and significance of wilderness and wildness with the populated attribute tables in a stockpile of data is analogous to putting a bear in a chair. Sure, the landscape has categories of attributes but having these tabulations only draws us further from its essence and into abstractions. Sure, you can get a bear to turn 'round into a chair, but when you do, it's really just a distraction from what the essence of being a bear might be.