International Wilderness Week Kick-off: History of Wilderness

On the keenly anticipated first day of the International Wilderness Week, we will explore the history of Wilderness and how it has developed as a concept. The role of humans in Wilderness will be touched upon, too. Talks cover the relationship between humans and Wilderness areas and also the position of humans in protecting Wilderness areas.

Outlook for the day

Welcome Session (06:00 UTC +2)

  • ‘Do we need to protect Wilderness?‘, by Max Rossberg, Chairman of the European Wilderness Society; Geoff Law, an author, conservationist and environmental activist; Dr. Gao Shan, associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at Soochow University; and Dr. John Hausdoerffer, Dean of the School of Environment and Sustainability at Western Colorado University. This opening panel discussion will deal with the importance of protecting Wilderness, with perspectives on Wilderness from 4 different continents.

Asia and Oceania Session (6:30 – 9:00 UTC +2)


  • ‘Environmental Ethics’, by Gao Shan, Associate Professor of Philosophy at Soochow University (06:30 UTC+2). For thousands of years, the concept of wilderness is mainly the object of cultural imagination in China. This talk will tie together the interpretations of Wilderness from multiple Chinese philosophical schools. While scientific and ecological interest in Wilderness is increasing in China, the concept of Wilderness is marginalised in the humanities. Gao Shan will also discuss the importance of the values surrounding nature and an interdisciplinary approach to Wilderness in this talk.

Africa and Europe Session (10:00 – 16:30 UTC +2)


  • ‘History of Wilderness in Europe‘ by Vlado Vancura, Deputy Chairman and Wilderness Director at European Wilderness Society (10:00 UTC +2). After 30 years of nature  and  Wilderness related experience in organisations including the US National Park Service, Parks Canada and the Tatra National Park in Slovakia, Vlado Vancura will talk to us about Wilderness in Europe, the European Wilderness Quality Standard and European Wilderness Network.  
  • ‘Wilderness: an anthropologist’s point of view’ by Maria Benciolini (14:00 UTC+2). Maria Benciolini, an anthropologist with experience in research about environmental conflicts in Central America and Europe, speaks about the cultural construction of Wilderness and nature. People experience and interpret nature and Wilderness in different ways. Maria talks about how culture frames the classification of the terms ‘wild’, ‘Wilderness’ and ‘Nature’., as well as people’s attitudes and perceptions towards them. The role of anthropology in biodiversity and Wilderness conservation will be touched upon in this talk as well.
  • ‘Among Bears: Brown bears in the heart of Europe‘ by Christine Sonvilla and Marc Graf, award winning wildlife photographers and filmmakers with work featured in the National Geographic Germany, ORF and ARTE/ZDF, from the Leben am Limit project (14:30 UTC+2). Christine Sonvilla and Marc Graf will give a presentation about the importance of Wilderness for bears in Central Europe. Wilderness is a crucial component in our European ecosystems and the presence of bears enable processes related to wilderness and species depending on wilderness to start thriving again. However, tolerance and acceptance for bears are lacking in Europe. Christine and Marc discuss their efforts in raising awareness for the bears and current and future strategies conducive to co-existence with the bear across Europe.

Americas Session (17:00 – 19:00 UTC +2)


  • ‘History of Wilderness in the USA‘ by Edward Zahniser, the son of the late Howard Zahniser, the primary author of and chief lobbyist for the 1964 US Wilderness Act (17:00 UTC+2). Edward Zahniser speaks about the history of the 1964 Wilderness Act, digging deeper than its eight-year legislative process. He offers a deeper glimpse into the history of the American Wilderness imagination, looking at its conceptual origins and the 100 year build-up of efforts and events which cumulated in the passing of the Wilderness Act in 1964.
  • ‘Gulf-Houston Regional Conservation Plan‘ by Deborah January-Bevers, President & CEO of Houston Wilderness (18:30 UTC+2). Houston Wilderness convened over 100 local governmental, business and nonprofit entities to create an ecosystem resilience plan for the Greater Houston region, shortly after the devastation of Hurricane Harvey. This Gulf-Houston Regional Conservation Plan (Gulf-Houston RCP) has made substantial gains for the region since its inception, thanks to a strong collaboration of supporters, and a focus on key goals including increasing protected land, implementing nature based stabilisation techniques and achieving greater carbon sequestration.

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