Cultural heritage could be defined as one’s inherent right to enjoy and carry on the cultural traditions of their ancestors. This could be defined in terms of “place and/or practice.” It is impossible to separate our “natural heritage” from our “cultural heritage” as our ancestors’ lifestyles were deeply rooted into the landscape.
Traditional practices that survived for long periods of time without negative impacts to the environment depended on sustainable, perpetual ecosystems whose carrying capacities were not exceeded. The depletion of natural resources and the impairment of natural processes can adversely impact our opportunities to continue cultural traditions. Examples are the overharvesting of fisheries, the loss of wildlife habitat by sprawl, or the polluting of waterways by industrial waste.
An example of cultural ecosystem change is loss of millions of acres of river canebrakes that were important sources of home furnishings and tools for basketry, fishing, and hunting. Rivercane was highly prized by early settlers as food for their cattle and hogs which they “free ranged.”
Our public lands and waterways were once known as public “commons.” Dating back to the days of ancient England, it was recognized that some elements of the natural world belonged to all people and not a privileged few. The air, the water, and wild game and fish could not be owned by individuals or corporations. The “right of access” became a central inherited tradition and right that belongs to all people.
Today, environmental and conservation issues center around our traditional rights to enjoy access to our public lands including public waterways and seashores. These rights must not be diminished by degradation or pollution.
The tradition of wilderness is as old as the world. Only by the protections that come with designated Wilderness can we preserve the last great, wild places of the earth for the future of a very populous planet.