Emma Marris on Saving Species

If humans prevent a wild plant or animal from going extinct, is it still wild? Orion editor Scott Gast speaks with Emma Marris about “Handle with Care,” her essay in the May/June 2015 issue, in which she makes the case for taking controversial steps to save threatened species.


  1. Marris here argues for prioritizing biodiversity over noninterference in nature, that is, over valuing nature’s wildness. She suggests that wildness is more of a human construct than is biodiversity. If we refuse to interfere in nature to protect biodiversity, valuing wildness over biodiversity, we are worried about us, rather than nature, or so she claims. This seems to me to be a mistake. Valuing nature’s independence from humans, its autonomy from humanity, is just as much a concern for nature as is valuing biodiversity.

    It is also important to note that sometimes additional human involvement in nature can be a way to lessen overall human impact on nature. The whitebark pine selective breeding and planting in wilderness example Marris discusses might not be a case where biodiversity conflicts with wildness, but rather where the two dovetail. Because whitebark pine’s decline is due to humans, our planting resistant seedlings might constitute additional human involvement in nature which results in less overall human impact on nature.

  2. Ms. Marris contends that we have a choice… wildness or the continuity of species and habitats as we had them 200 years ago. The reality is that we never have had the ability to stop natural processes and keep the elements of nature we favor. Change is inevitable. No matter what. So, let’s choose wildness by choosing restraint. The loss humanity has caused is making Ms. Marris “sad”. It makes me sad too… and ashamed. But I submit that it would be more loving, and honorable to interfere with humankind to assuage that pain than to further interfere with nature.

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