This second journey has presented us with an over-arching question that provides quite a nice opportunity to explore different angles of the relationship between environment and society. This may as well have potential for the new project inherent in the contemplation of wildness. Specifically, that question is: How has the geology of the Chesapeake region shaped how humans interact with their environment? Essentially, we are delving into the concept of environmental change as the foundational context for the social and cultural factors and changes that we explored previously. Among the many principles of environmental change, a major player in the Chesapeake region is sea level rise. This principle, has had a major influence on both the region as a whole and the general nexus between environment and society. In an effort to take this somewhere, a great place to apply this idea and the potential opportunities of this question, would be our trip to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge in Dorchester County, Maryland. As we were told, Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge is part of a larger conglomeration of land called the Chesapeake Marshlands National Wildlife Refuge Complex. It contains one-third of Maryland’s tidal wetlands and is 28,000 acres in total. However, while all of this sounds very promising, it is not all so well and good. According to a report put out by the refuge that we read before our trip there, entitled Blackwater 2100, “5000 acres of marsh have been lost since the late 1930’s” (Lerner, J.A., Blackwater 2100: A Strategy for Salt Marsh Persistence in an era of Climate Change, pg 3). This report also goes on to highlight a prediction of more than 3 feet of sea level rise by the end of the century.
As this sea level rise is happening, many acres of this ecologically important and physically beautiful land is being consumed by water, rendering it lost forever to most forms of life. What this has created over the years is a situation where extensive amounts of funding and collaboration between organizations have been directed toward a strategy for adaptive management intended to conserve as much of this ecological resource as possible. However, while a lot of this effort can be slated as being quite prudent, given that it enriches the lives of charismatic species, and preserves a beautiful landscape, it also can be characterized in the sense that it is not prudent at all. To an extent, sea level rise is an inevitable impact of climate change, and therefore will always have its way in the end. We can try to slow it down, or dilute its influence on habitat and species, but it is not very likely that we could ever stop it. All of this blends nicely into how humans interact with their environment. One of the major ways humans have interacted with their environment, has been putting a tangible value on it which has to do with ecosystem services. The situation at Blackwater relates nicely to an issue of intrinsic value vs instrumental value that we talked about with Professor McCabe. Arguably, the situation at Blackwater is indicative of intrinsic value. The general trajectory of the establishment of the refuge goes from realizing the importance and natural beauty of the area and trying to stop any more damage from occurring, to these new plans of trying to conserve and restore as much as possible in the most feasible way possible. In other words, this involves prioritizing what may actually prosper and letting some parts of it go. In a noticeable way, this situation shows the way in which people interact with the environment by trying to fight against the inevitable to conserve things that are important. Likely, most of Blackwater will be consumed by water, species will lose habitat, and only a few areas will prosper in a noticeable way. Too late we tend to realize how important our wild places really are, and put ourselves in a situation where we are throwing money and resources at an effort that will not completely dilute inevitable occurrences. Are we, or the federal funds, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Department of Natural Resources in this case, doing too much in the name of intrinsic value applied to our environment? Does it all make sense in terms of cost, and pragmatism for the same purposes? While this effort at Blackwater has provided a lot of good for both ecology and society, one can only question how some respects of this situation comment on the interactions between humans and their environment driven by the ecological change principle of sea level rise.