Experts Discuss the Changing Wilderness
April 6, 2007 8:53 AM
Students, faculty, professionals and community members came together Thursday and Friday for the first annual Redefining Wilderness Symposium at Cesar Chavez Student Center.
Sponsored in part by Bay Area Wilderness Training, the symposium was geared toward developing a new understanding of wilderness and how humans relate to it.
On Thursday, various workshops and panels were held where discussion leaders presented their diverse experiences with nature and their opinions of wilderness. Panelists included biologists, professors, philosophers, activists and conservationists. Panel and workshop topics ranged from wilderness use to the politics of land management to how to educate youth to value the great outdoors.
On Friday, the event took a more organic approach. Participants split into groups of about six or seven people and brainstormed their ideas of the evolving concepts of wilderness in a “conversation café”-style discussion. After several rounds of debate and dialogue, the groups came together to present their ideas to the entire audience. Kenn Burrows, founder of SF State’s Holistic Health Learning Center and moderator of the event, said the purpose was to get people thinking about viewpoints other than their own in an interactive setting.
“It really focused everyone. They were able to understand and learn about their own agendas more, and to broaden them,” he said. “We really represent the larger culture here, and there’s a lot of self-discovery going on.”
When the small groups re-converged for the final discussion, they were each asked to make a statement about wilderness as agreed upon by the entire group. Some echoed that youth need more exposure to nature, while some asked how we can care about wilderness if we don’t care about each other first.
Organizers said the event could be considered a success if people walked away with an expanded view of wilderness. Yvette Michaud, senior environmental studies major and one of the symposium’s coordinators, said she was content to know that even the professionals who attended the event gained something.
“I was satisfied that a lot of the participants—panelists as well as audience members—were confronted with new insights that they had never thought of before,” she said. “It was amazing to see the academic and public spheres come together. We’re all working on the same thing, but we’re not connected and we need to be. We need a strong community to move forward and tackle these issues.”
At the end of the two-day event, Kyle Macdonald, founder and CEO of Bay Area Wilderness Training, addressed the audience. He stressed a concept of wilderness that encompasses every aspect of environmentalism. Social justice and conservation are two movements that should work together and feed off of each other, he said.
He advised the audience to ask people what wilderness has meant to them before telling them what they think it means. Because, he said, in the end, “wilderness is so much about what we bring to it; it’s about where we come from.”
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