One of the outstanding values and reasons for the establishment of the M-KMA is wilderness. To enable protection of this value in the long-term, the Muskwa-Kechika Advisory Board developed an operational Wilderness Definition that defines "wilderness," "wilderness quality," and "wilderness characteristics." The Wilderness Definition is intended to assist managers and other users to make appropriate wilderness conservation choices in conducting their activities within the Muskwa-Kechika Management Area.
Rather than remaining as a fixed definition over time, this definition will be tested and revisited to determine how it can be improved.
M-KAB Wilderness Definition
With an overall goal to maintain wilderness characteristics, the Wilderness Definition provides objectives for maintaining wilderness quality including timing of activities, duration of activities, optimising project design, and full restoration of areas affected by the activity.
With this in mind, wilderness consists of two inter-related concepts:
- an ecological system maintaining its ecological integrity, based on best scientific analysis, and
- a large area perceived by humans to be natural or wild, based on anthropocentric criteria.
The terms “ecological system” “ecological integrity,” “large area”, “perceived by humans”, “natural”, and “wild” must be defined to ensure that this definition of wilderness is precise.
Wilderness Characteristics are those elements that comprise Wilderness. If Wilderness is a large area perceived by humans as natural or wild, with an ecological system maintaining its ecological integrity, then Wilderness Characteristics include the following:
- an area greater than 5000 ha. that is perceived to be unaffected by humans, and is within the range of natural variation, where the landscape is perceived to be wild, or in a state like that which existed prior to European settlement, and where there is a high probability of encountering human solitude,
- a landscape where evidence of post-European-contact human activity including road access or linear corridors, industrial facilities or other infrastructure, lights, sounds, or smells, is not apparent to a neutral observer, and
- an ecosystem in a state or condition where the structures and functions of the system are unimpaired by human-caused disturbances, and where native species are present at population levels within the range of natural variation, with their processes (such as growth, evolution, and reproduction) intact.
- “Wilderness quality” is a measure of the degree to which the ecosystem and landscape retain “wilderness characteristics.” It is the responsibility of the proponents of activities that would affect or alter the wilderness characteristics to measure wilderness quality on both a project-by-project and a cumulative basis. The benchmark for measuring wilderness quality should be the wilderness characteristics that exist prior to the initiation of the project, and the goal should be to return the landscape to a state that restores that level of wilderness quality over time.
- The objective is to maintain wilderness characteristics to the extent possible. Where they are fully maintained, wilderness quality is high. The M-K Act implicitly recognizes that “wilderness” cannot be maintained at all times in a landscape where industrial activity takes place and requires that it is “wilderness characteristics” that must be maintained over time. This means that “wilderness quality” will decline for periods of time in areas where industrial activity is taking place. For instance, in the case of an open pit mine, wilderness quality may decline for many decades.
- However, in all cases this period must be kept as short as possible and practicable, in order that ecological integrity, and the human perception of wilderness, be maintained over time.
The goals for maintaining, and where necessary, restoring wilderness quality should be:
- to ensure activities create the least impact possible and practicable on wilderness characteristics and quality during the period of construction and operation, in part by utilizing best project design,
- to ensure impacts created are of as short a duration as possible and practicable, that restoration is "progressive" and proceeds as soon as possible, and
- to ensure pre-existing wilderness characteristics are restored as soon as possible and practicable after the conclusion of activities. In all cases, the goal should be a return to pre-existing wilderness conditions in one human lifetime, or 75 years after operations cease. (This time is chosen since time periods longer than a human lifetime can be considered permanent from a human perspective.) Longer time periods may be acceptable under specific conditions, but only where it can be definitively demonstrated that ecological regeneration occurs at rates inconsistent with these goals.
The Muskwa-Kechika Management Area is 6.4 million hectares, approximately the size of Ireland.