Wilderness Restoration: The Paradox of Public Participation


Address Correspondence to W. Throop, email throopw@greenmtn.edu


Recent trends in ecological restoration complicate the job of wilderness managers. An emphasis on volunteer participation in restoration designed to foster human/nature relationships often conflicts with the mandate to leave land untrammeled. We frame this conflict as the “participation paradox.” Higgs’ (2003) Nature by Design contains a response to the paradox that includes a strong defense of participatory focal restoration and a related critique of wilderness. After identifying the limitations of Higgs’ arguments, we address the paradox by showing how an appeal to the moral virtues of humility, self-restraint, and altruism supports a restrictive conception of wilderness and a healing metaphor for wilderness restoration. The virtue-informed healing metaphor provides an argument for restricting volunteer participation and long-term restoration projects in wilderness areas. It also identifies the general conditions in which damaged wilderness should be allowed to “heal itself.” The upshot of our approach to the paradox is that some standards for good restoration should be contextualized to land use designations. In particular, the emphasis on participatory restoration is appropriate in humanized landscapes but not in wilderness.