Conceptualizing landscape wildness and cultural heritage for state conservation planning
Watson, Chris Eric
MetadataShow full item record
This study sought to comprehend natural variation in the Georgia landscape and prioritize elements of that variation for elevated conservation attention, thus serving as a prototype for The Wilderness Society’s Network of Wildlands Program. The assessment had four components. A geographic information system (GIS) model of landscape wildness was constructed and contrasted against patterns of biological diversity indicators derived from the Georgia Natural Heritage Program database. Modeling procedures isolated a wildland in middle Georgia along the Ocmulgee River that served as an exemplary case study. A history of citizen advocacy in middle Georgia has focused on expansion of the Ocmulgee National Monument and its redesignation as a National Park. Additionally, indigenous cultural heritage elements were integrated into the nature-based assessment. Recent years have witnessed a concerted reassertion of tribal interest in Georgia lands and sacred sites by the historically indigenous Muscogee (Creek) Nation, residing in Oklahoma since the era of Indian Removal. Muscogee activism culminated in the designation of a Traditional Cultural Property (TCP) near Macon, on the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. A formal survey was undertaken among Muscogee informants who have been active in aspects of the preservation of Muscogee heritage in Georgia. Survey results record Muscogee ideas, insights, and visions for the future of the middle Georgia landscape. This study concludes that modeling and mapping of landscape wildness is highly effective in identifying regions within the state worthy of increased attention as critical elements in a comprehensive state conservation policy. The value of this wildness-centric approach is enhanced by inclusion of state Natural Heritage Program data. Modeling results: 1) bolster and validate citizen advocacy efforts on behalf of an Ocmulgee National Park and Preserve; and 2) provide justification for The Wilderness Society’s conservation program in the southeast, and should be extended to include Alabama and South Carolina. The Georgia case study demonstrates that areas identified in landscape wildness models may coincide with areas of critical interest to historically indigenous people. Such instances provide unique opportunities for cultivating synergistic relationships that integrate conservation of the natural and cultural in new permutations of traditional conservation approaches.