Idea of Absolute Zapovednost in American Writings
Vladimir Boreyko, Kyiv Ecological-Cultural Center (Ukraine)
Alexey Burkovskyy, All-Ukrainian Environmental League (Ukraine)
Kathryn Daly, American Naturalist (United States of America)
There is an urgent need to protect our global wilderness from the arrogant sprawl of humanity. Commercial exploitation of our land and sea has left no ecosystem undamaged. We must heed the most extreme of environmental propositions and dedicate vast tracts of land and sea back to the planet. This idea of absolute wildness conservancy through preservation has been proposed by authors across the globe; the ultimate concept of preservation is that of zapovednost.
The term “zapovednost’” is a Russian word describing a special juridical status and process for creating a nature reserve where any human activity is completely forbidden. Any wilderness which has been designated with this inviolable protective status is called a “zapovednik”. Zapovednost is not simply landscape or species conservation; a zapovednik provides for the conservation of both wild natural processes and the course of wild evolution. It protects the wild as an entire ecosystem by severely limiting the influence of humanity within its borders.
The concept of zapovednost is a philosophical basis for juridical and administrative control which allows for absolute wildness conservancy and freedom. The closest English term for an accurate definition of zapovednik is “nature sanctuary” because “sanctuary” originates from the Latin “sanctus” – a sacred holy place. A zapovednik is a sacred place that is left alone to its’ natural processes; creatures from the enormous to microscopic are free to exist within the world we all share. It is the ultimate act of devotion to the Earth; to give back and dissolve any human influence so that the area may grow as it wishes.
The intention of this essay is to inform the English reader of the concept of zapovednost. Zapovednost is likely a new term to many English readers, yet there have been many writers who have advocated for wilderness freedom and protection through the limiting of human influence. This paper discusses American and Russian authors, though advocates for absolute wilderness exist in every country. The philosophy of zapovednost can harbor peace amongst humanity as we unite together to create large wilderness areas across borders and between shared seas. It is our hope that by sharing this concept we may broaden world awareness of zapovednost and initiate global dialogue.
Today, there are many attempts to discredit the idea of zapovednost because this concept contradicts global anthropocentrism. We have only one planet upon which we can survive, and it is time to choose a way of life that recognizes that we humans, for all our power, are only a small part of the global ecosystem. While zapovednost is likely a new term to many English readers, this concept has been historically supported by many great American naturalists and philosophers of ecology. It is undeniable that in the name of progress, vast tracts of land and sea have been devastated across the globe. Protecting all from the vandalism of a few is the precise intention of zapovednost.
Henry Thoreau, one of Americas’ most well-known environmental writers, wrote that “Most men, it appears to me, do not care for Nature, and would sell their share in all her beauty, for as long as they may live, for a stated and not very large sum. Thank God they cannot yet fly and lay waste the sky as well as the Earth. We are safe on that for the present it is for the very reason that some do not care for these things that we need to combine to protect all from the vandalism of a few.” 1Thoreau is one of the most well known American naturalists, and one of the first American writers to publicly consider the value of wilderness as a free and autonomous landscape.
John Muir, who is best known as the founder of the Sierra Club and for his efforts to preserve Yosemite Valley in California, was a strong advocate for preserving and honoring the wild natural world. He recognized the interconnectedness of nature, for “every attempt to appreciate any one feature is beaten down by the overwhelming influence of all the others.”2 He argued that those who believe that nature was created solely for the use of mankind are unable to reconcile that “…nature’s object in making animals and plants might possibly be first of all the happiness of each one of them, not the creation of all for the happiness of one. Why should man value himself as more than a small part of the one great unit of creation?”3 Muir advocated for the freedom and independence of wilderness and the creatures within it through his rejection of human superiority.
Nature does not require humanity. To appreciate nature is to recognize that it is not domesticated, nor managed by humans. To be in the presence of the wild is to be within a habitat that is truly self-regulating. The wilderness functions independently from humanity on each of our continents and within all of our waters on our beloved planet. Zapovednost proposes to allow for freedom of wildlife through the following measures:
• Allowing wildlife to act in accordance with its own will through the establishment of vast protected areas in which the natural world is free to behave as it wishes.
• Defending these sacred areas and the right of wildlife to freely exist unbothered.
• Absolving external control, enforcements and limitations that are placed on wildlife by humanity.
Zapovednost allows for natural processes to occur, unmanaged and uninterrupted by humanity. By prohibiting humanity within the borders of a zapovednik, the wilderness is allowed to exist within its’ own will. The wilderness as a whole may behave as it wishes and exercise a liberty of choice in accordance with its’ own interests. This concept advocates for the entirety of the ecosystem.
The concept of protecting the freedom of wilderness became well publicized in both America and Russia during the first decade of the 20th century as the industrial revolution spread across the globe. Russia pioneered the concept of zapovednost; by the 19th century the country had established many ecological research stations within wilderness zones. The first to write in detail of the principal of zapovednost was Vasily Vasilevich Dokuchayev, who published a report in 1895 explaining the necessity of restoring the Russian steppe ecosystem back to its’ original state through granting zapovednost status in order “to prevent the irrevocable extermination” of the land.4 The concept of zapovednost received further attention in 1908, when Grigoriy Aleksandrovich Kozhevnikov, a Russian entomologist, wrote an essay about the necessity of establishing large wilderness sanctuaries to be used only by scientists for careful observation.
A.P. Semyonov-Tien-Shanskiy was a Russian entomologist who recognized the necessity of freedom for all realms of life. He was noted to have said that “Freedom is necessary for nature as well as for people.” 5 He and fellow professor-zoologist G.A. Kozhevnikov proposed together that territorial protection of wilderness must allow for the freedom of wildlife. They suggested providing vast tracts of land and sea where humanity was forbidden. These Russian pioneers of wildlife protection insisted on non-interference in natural processes by demanding complete inviolability of reserved areas of wildlife. These areas are sacred places, not to be desecrated by the destructive presence of humanity.
Respect for the sanctity of wilderness was a common value that united ancient cultures. This is not entirely lost, but the worship of land and sea has been denigrated, and the ecosystems as a whole have suffered. Reverence for wild animals, wilderness and sea used to be a part of ones’ every day existence. There are many factors in modern society that have led to disconnect from the worship of the natural world. While this could be an essay unto itself, Gary Snyder, an American Pulitzer Prize winning poet, offered the following succinct theory for this disconnect: “This ancient aspect of religious worship remains virtually incomprehensible to Euro-Americans. Indeed it might: if even some small bits of land are considered sacred, then they are forever nor for sale and not for taxing. This is a deep threat to the assumptions of an endlessly expansive materialist economy.” 6 Zapovednost is a call for transformation upon our planet, to create large areas where natural processes are preserved for their own sake – not for the benefit of humanity. It is also a call for mental transformation; to challenge the relationship that we create with the wild spaces around us.
Zapovednost proposes to preserve the process of the wild course of nature, for all its’ savage glory. Some species will surely suffer, others will thrive. When we allow nature to act naturally, we do not presume to know more than the Earths’ other organisms. Holmes Rolstone III, an American philosopher, suggests that “what we still need is a kind of emancipation proclamation for the wildness that remains…This is a call for humans to respect the plenitude of being, once so cast and now so quickly vanishing, which surrounds us in the wild world.” He asks what gain we truly achieve through exploitation of the wild, when we lose “a realm of integral wildness that transcends and supports us – and perhaps even to lose some of our soul in the trade-off?”8
In his book Abstract Wild, Jack Turner argues for a concept that corresponds completely with the idea of absolute zapovednost, based not on the control over wildlife but on protection of its freedom in all its chaotic intricacy. He advocates to set aside vast areas where we “limit all forms of human influence: no conservation strategies, no designer wilderness, no roads, no trails, no satellite surveillance, no over-flights with helicopters, no radio collars, no measuring devices, no photographs, no GPS data … Let whatever habitat we can preserve go back to its own self-order as much as possible. Let wilderness again become a blank on our maps.” 7 There are many opponents of absolute wilderness preservation, as this concept directly challenges the notion of a profit-driven society
Jack Turner notes that there is no profit in this strategy, hence why it has not been adopted on a wide scale. He continues by discussing the two concepts of preservation; for “most preservation efforts have followed the first: the preservation of things. Strawberry preserves epitomize this kind of preservation. The other sense is the preservation of process: leaving things be.” 7 To preserve an entire ecological process requires respecting that our human influence, as an outside organism, is never going to mimic what nature would have chosen, if left unbothered. This is why advocates for absolute zapovednost are totally against these management measures of wildlife management in zapovedniks.
The ideal philosophy of absolute zapovednost is that vast areas should be left to function freely, unbothered by the influence of humanity. To recognize that nature serves far more purpose than just as profit for mankind, we must find ways to value this wilderness while realizing there will be no economic value to be had from the area. Several of the authors cited in this text have touched upon the reality that without profit, it is difficult to convince people of the validity of preserving vast tracts of land. The interested reader shall find in research that the ideal of absolute conservancy of wilderness is not currently being practiced equally in all zapovednik areas. While zapovedniks as a whole may not currently operate under absolute conservancy of wilderness, they are the best that we have to learn from as a global community.
Zapovednost is a call for reanimation of the natural world as well as the humans who occupy it. We propose that humankind can live in a way that honors our role as the most powerful species, by dedicating vast amounts of land and sea back to the natural world. We do not need it all, nor should we take from the Earth without giving back. We have lost, as a whole, our connection with the sacred world we live in. This philosophy re-evaluates the way that we operate within our world. The only way that people may change our current ecological crises are through the shifting of our mindset; the legal establishment of absolute zapovednost will follow only if people truly believe that Earth is worth fighting for.
1. Thoreau, Henry. “Huckleberries” Collected Essays and Poems. As reprinted in American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. Bill McKibben ed. (Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY.) p 32.
2. Muir, John. My First Summer in the Sierra. As reprinted in American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. Bill McKibben ed. (Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY.) p 99
3. Muir, John. A Thousand-Mile Walk to the Gulf as reprinted in American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. Bill McKibben ed. (Literary Classics of the United States, New York, NY.) p 87
4. Shtilmark, F. R. History of Russian Zapovedniks (2003) Russian Nature Press. Edinburgh EH7 4HN. United Kingdom.
5. Борейко В.Е. , 2012, Философы зоозащиты и природоохраны, К., КЭКЦ,
179 стр. [ trans. Alexey Burkovskyy : Boreyko, V.E. Philosophers of animal protection and wildlife protection, Kyiv, KECC, 2012. 179 p.]
6. Snyder, Gary. Good, Wild, Sacred from The Practice of the Wild. (1984) Five Seasons Press. Madley, Hereford England
7. Turner, Jack. The Abstract Wild (1996) University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Arizona. P.120
8. Rolston H. III, Philosophy Gone Wild; Essays in Environmental Ethics (1986) Prometheus Books, Buffalo, New York. p 203.