Monday, April 5, 2010


Almost a year ago, I began a series on this blog addressing 27 questions asked in a 1985 publication by Bill Devall and George Sessions called "Deep Ecology: Living as if Nature Mattered." The last in the "Where You At?" series is:

27. What is the largest wilderness area in your bioregion?

The answer, of course, depends on how you define "wilderness" and "bioregion." For me, I'll use the Sonoran Desert, which is actually a really broad category, since ecologists often divide this up into six more tightly defined bioregions. Phoenix is in the transition zone between two of the largest, which are the Lower Colorado River Valley, which includes vast stretches of creosote dominated scrublands and the Arizona Uplands, best known for saguaro studded hills.

Wilderness, to me, is any area of land that is not dominated by human settlements. An official "Wilderness Area" is designated based on more specific criteria, including the lack of developed roadways. The roadless criteria is very limiting, because humans have managed to create an intricate web of roads just about everywhere on the planet, which leaves only small patches of geologically difficult to navigate land as Wilderness. Only 2.7% of the land area of the lower 48 state is designated wilderness. The balance of the total 5% is in Alaska, for the time being.

For designated Wilderness category closest to Phoenix, we've got the Superstition Wilderness, an area we backpacked into a few weeks ago on our spring break. But that isn't even truly roadless, since the main route we used into Reavis Canyon was originally a road built for motorized use in the 1930's. The USFS just doesn't allow vehicles on it anymore, since the late 1960's, after the Wilderness Act was established. The Superstition Wilderness comprises 160K+ acres or about 250 square miles, but probably half of that is Woodland/Chapparal, not Sonoran Desert. Definitely wild and scenic though.

We've been lucky to spend time in a few other island wilderness areas that include Sonoran Desert territory in southern Arizona, including Aravaipa Canyon (19.4K+ acres/~30 square miles); Salome Wilderness (18.5K+ acres/~29 square miles); Salt River Canyon (32K+ acres/~50 square miles); Hells Canyon (~10K acres/~15.5 square miles); and Kofa Refuge (516K+ acres/~806 square miles).

But by far the largest stretch of wilderness, although with a few roads running through it, is the combined territory of the Papago Indian Reservation (2.7+ million acres/4340 square miles), Cabeza Prieta Wildlife Refuge (803K+ acres/~1,250 square miles), Organ Pipe National Monument (~312K acres/~488 square miles), and Barry Goldwater Military Proving Grounds (2.7+ million acres/~4340 square miles). Together, this vast section of mostly undeveloped (though slightly pocked by bombs and gashed a bit by roads) region of Sonoran desert is over four million acres or nearly 6400 square miles of wild land. Over 400 miles of this is on the border of the U.S. and Mexico. If you add in the area that would be rightfully called wilderness south of the border, you've got a wilderness that is probably greater than all of the combined official "Wilderness Areas" in the lower 48 states. And you better carry water.

This is where the jaguar lives

This is where the United States tests lethal weapons for warfare.

This is where 20,000 or so of an indigenous tribal culture of Native Americans live.

And this is where the United States Government is building a huge fence to keep out "illegal immigrants."


So that's the answer to the question, although I could write a lot more about the concept of wilderness, especially as related to these concluding observations. For now, I'll just end that series, and encourage my readers to answer the "Where You At?" questions for themselves, mostly because it was really challenging and fun to discover a little bit more about the region I call home for now. As if nature matters.

1. Trace the water you drink from precipitation to tap.
2. How many days until the moon is full (plus or minus a couple of days)?
3. Describe the soil around your home.
4. What were the primary subsistence techniques of the culture(s) that lived in your area before you?
5. Name five native edible plants in your bioregion and their season(s) of availability.
6. From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?
7. Where does your garbage go?
8. How long is the growing season where you live?
9. On what day of the year are the shadows the shortest where you live?
10. Name five trees in your area. Are any of them native? If you can’t name names, describe them.
11. Name five resident and any migratory birds in your area.
12. What is the land use history by humans in your bioregion during the past century?
13. What primary geological event/process influenced the landform where you live?
14. What species have become extinct in your area?
15. What are the major plant associations in your region?
16. From where you are reading this, point north.
17. What spring wildflower is consistently among the first to bloom where you live?
18. What kinds of rocks and minerals are found in your bioregion?
19. Were the stars out last night?
20. Name some beings (nonhuman) that share your place.
21. Do you celebrate the turning of the summer and winter solstice? If so, how do you celebrate?
22. How many people live next door to you? What are their names?
23. How much gasoline do you use a week, on the average?
24. What energy costs you the most money? What kind of energy is it?
25. What developed and potential energy resources are in your area?
26. What plans are there for massive development of energy or mineral resources in your bioregion?
27. What is the largest wilderness area in your bioregion?

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