Metaphor Watch: “Working Wilderness”

On the New West site, George Wuerthner makes an excellent point in a column about a phrase coined by cattle groups to create a warm sense about their use of public lands:

“Working wilderness” is a term that was coined by ranching proponents
to modify our view of the world. Most people view “wilderness” as well
as “work” as positive phrases. By using two words that have positive
responses from most people, the livestock industry seeks to evoke a
positive response to ranching. In our mind’s eye we envision a
benevolent cowboy herding his docile cattle over the land to enhance
and benefit nature. But a “working wilderness” is anything but a
wilderness. It is a place where ranchers control (at least attempt to
control) the landscape to benefit people and exotic animals. It is a
domesticated land. And the fences that are strung across the land are
more than mere artifacts used to contain cattle movements, but are
emblematic of human ownership and control. Such lands are anything but
“self willed” lands as true wilderness is. It might be well managed
from the perspective of a ranching operation—but it is not wild as
someplace where natural forces call the shots. 

For some the term working wilderness not only puts a positive spin on
old fashion human manipulation and exploitation, but it by default also
implies a negative view of wildlands. Such “self willed” lands that are
not grazed by cows are somehow vast tracts of shiftless, lazy and
presumably unemployed lands that do nothing worthwhile at all.

Love that phrasing: "shiftless, lazy, unemployed lands." In contrast, here’s some hard-working cows in action, from a recent photographic exhibition in Santa Monica by Glen Wexler, courtesy of an Los Angeles Times article called Bovine Intervention:


Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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