With the rapid growth of American population, researchers believe wilderness areas face a higher rate of degradation. Two from the University of Georgia have helps create a buffer zone system for human and nature cooperation.
As the United States population grows, wilderness and designated national regions face encroachment. What happens when humans push against the naturally established wilderness? Destruction of habitat and loss of a precious resource, says University of Georgia researchers Lauren K. Ward and Gary T. Green.
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According to the Wilderness Act of 1964, wilderness is described as "an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain," which includes 106 million acres of federal public lands.
With the human population expected to grow 50 percent by 2050, the nearly 1,000 designated and protected areas by the Act may face rapid degradation. And that doesn't include factors like climate change, which can easily ruin scores of land, and inexperienced tourists traversing across difficult terrain when technology fails.
"These social, demographic, and biological trends threaten to undermine the purpose of the Wilderness Act and the designation and management of pristine wilderness areas," according to the research report submitted to student journal Illuminare.
In order to combat the increasing encroachment, buffer zones and biosphere reserves are essential to providing wilderness areas, "the country’s most pristine examples of untrammeled nature, invaluable biodiversity, and long-held traditions of primitive outdoor recreation."
Wilderness managers are expected to maintain a very strict set of guidelines to qualify the land for protection and the erosion of human and wilderness, especially the more remote regions, means less change of status maintenance. So can humans effectively protect and enjoy nature at the same time?
According to researchers’ press release, a system of zones would help keep areas safely regulated and enjoyed at the same time.
- In a central “core zone,” human activity would be prohibited.
- The zone surrounding the core would be used for scientific research, environmental education, and natural observation.
- For cultural and heritage zones, managers would be able to protect and improve qualities of the site without sacrificing the environmental importance.
- Outdoor play and human interaction would be the fourth zone, far enough from the core to not allow human interference.
- Buffer zones should surround them all, including cooperating with private landowners surrounding the designated wilderness areas.
“We believe that encouraging landowners to embrace an attitude of stewardship through education and incentives will be the best approach,” stated Green.
The idea is to combat an overbuilt property as human population starts to rest against the boundaries. A prior study confirms that within 30 miles of protected wilderness, areas will show a population increase of 10 million between 2000 and 2030.
As a simple proposal, managers and agencies aren’t required to follow any suggestions. But the two are hoping for long-term changes. However, the suggestions could be mandated federally or locally.
“Wilderness is easy to destroy, but it is nearly impossible to re-create. Americans should continue to protect natural wild lands for future generations to enjoy,” says Ward.
Places like Shenandoah Wilderness in Virginia and the Desolation Wilderness in California depend on citizens to follow strict guidelines in order to keep the area beautiful and as untouched as possible. It’s not just hiking trails and mountains to climb, but places like the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia and Florida that are at risk, too.
The Everglades are protected, even as tourists and hunters use airboats to skim the land in order to explore. It would easy for inexperienced tourists to lose satellite signal in a wilderness area and be unable to reach help if following back roads and trails. This is especially dangerous as the wetlands change through climate and land erosion from human interference. A buffer zone would signal limitations and warnings based on easy to identify terminology.
And it’s not just the future that will need the benefits, either. Natural parks and wilderness lands are part of the nation’s access to water resources—an essential zone for many metropolitan regions.
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As the population begins to move into previously unused land and more westward, buffer zones would allow a continued exploration of nature within safe boundaries and continued maintenance of America’s wilderness.