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Speak-o-logical: Defining and Measuring the Ecological Value of Wilderness

This article is from Issue Wilderness Benefits - Vol. 7 No. 1.

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When a society decides to set aside areas of land as wilderness, it makes a choice about the value of those lands. In the United States, people have decided that some lands are more valuable without human development. One of the values of wilderness is its ecological value. The scientists decided to compare wilderness with other lands. They wanted to know whether wilderness has greater ecological value than all other types of land.

Welcome to the Wilderness Benefits edition

Note to Educators

Wilderness Benefits Lesson Plan

Reflection Section Answer Guide

Education Standards Correlations


Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Life Science
  • People and Science

"Environmental Topics" covered in this article:
  • Forest and Grassland Use (Educators)
  • The Value of Forests and Grasslands (Educators)

Regions covered in this article:
  • Alaska
  • Forest Products Lab
  • Intermountain
  • International Institute of Tropical Forestry
  • Northern
  • Pacific Northwest
  • Pacific Southwest
  • Rocky Mountain
  • Southern
  • Southwestern

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
To answer a question or solve a problem, scientists must clearly define what they are going to study. In this research, the scientists were interested in exploring a possible difference between wilderness and lands that are not wilderness. Wilderness is legally designated land that is protected from most human activities. The scientists wanted to know if wilderness has greater ecological value than nonwilderness. To answer their research question, the scientists had to find a way to define what is meant by the ecological value of a natural area.
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Characteristics of Scientists
  • Scientific Topics
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
The scientists in this study decided that the ecological value of an area is related to two things. Those things are how natural the area is and the area's ability to support life. Think about the word 'natural.' What does that word mean to you? Think about a parking lot, a soccer field, and a path through a forest. Which seems the most natural to you? What makes one area more natural than the other? What makes one area less natural than the other? Which of these areas can best support life? Which one is least able to support life?
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Ecosystems
  • Value of natural environments

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Natural hazards (F)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Populations and ecosystems (C)
  • Risks and benefits (F)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry (A)

Science Benchmarks covered in this article:
  • Habits of Mind: Critical-Response Skills
  • Habits of Mind: Values and Attitudes
  • The Living Environment: Interdependence of Life
  • The Nature of Science: Scientific Inquiry