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Proposes to perform the task of understanding the concept of wilderness through an examination of its historical development and a phenomenological analysis.
Despite the enduring popularity of The Singing Wilderness, Listening Point, Reflections from the North Country, and his other books, a major portion of Sigurd F. Olson's wilderness writing-much of it originating as speeches-has been relatively inaccessible, scattered in a number of magazines and obscure books over a period of more than fifty years, or never published at all. The Meaning of Wilderness gathers together the most important of Olson's articles and speeches, making them available in one place for the first time. The book also contains an introduction and chapter-by-chapter commentary by Olson's authorized biographer, David Backes, that help the reader discover the various facets of Olson's wilderness philosophy and their development over time.
Olson speaks of his philosophy of wilderness and conservation, its broad social value, reasons for its preservation, and the effects of overpopulation.
"The meanings embodied in the 1964 Wilderness Act and reflected in the common practices of federal land management agencies have an important influence on wilderness use, yet they neither determine nor sufficiently describe the nature of visitor's experiences. The objectives of this study were to understand the meanings expressed by wilderness visitors, and further to investigate how visitors negotiate the range of culturally available meanings to reconstruct their experiences and evaluate wilderness management practices. Data collection and analysis for this study was guided by the tenets of hermeneutic philosophy and informed by Giddens' Theory of Structuration and related concepts. Thirty-two open-ended, group and individual interviews were conducted with a total of 92 visitors at Gates of the Arctic National Park in Alaska. Interviews were tape-recorded, transcribed, and rigorously analyzed using a multi-stage process of data organization and interpretation. Through this process, five dimensions of visitors' experiences were identified: A taste of the arctic, self-reliance, wildness, naturalness, and stewardship. These dimensions reflect some of the major themes from the Wilderness Act and the Gates of the Arctic general management plan. However, within and across the dimensions, visitors expressed variable and sometimes contradictory meanings. They described wilderness as a place primarily absent of people, but also as a setting for defining themselves, interacting with others, and connecting with a common human ancestry. Likewise, some visitors described regulations as symbols of government intrusion or as constraints on their personal freedoms, but they also described them as means to enhance safety and preserve experience opportunities, and as symbols of good stewardship. These findings indicate that general or abstract meanings relative to people and regulations in wilderness do not necessarily reflect how visitors interpret encounters and management practices in the specific context of their lived experiences. In general, visitors do not appear to hold stable meanings for wilderness that uniformly influence their experiences or their interpretations of wilderness management regulations. The results of this study have important implications for wilderness management and also for future research efforts"--Leaf ii.

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