Esposearch Logo

“Trouble With Wilderness” and “Which Species Will Live”


Since the origin of humanity, humans have affected the natural environment around them. As civilization expands and its ability to harm, often unknowingly, other species and disrupt entire ecosystems grows, the question of preserving nature becomes more critical. Never has this question been more prominent than in the last half-century, when humanity became capable of endangering species through its expansion and exploitation of natural resources. Two essays, “The Trouble with Wilderness” by William Cronon, and “Which Species Will Live?” by Michelle Nijhuis, explore the issues facing conservationists. While the core subject is the same, the two authors provide significantly different perspectives on the matter.

The Subject and Conclusion

Although both essays discuss issues with the conservation of nature, they offer differing perspectives on the subject, and arrive at different conclusions. Cronon questions the ideological and philosophical principles and motivations behind American conservationism (553). According to him, the natural preserve, while philosophically attempting to restore the wilderness to its untouched, natural state, is by itself as much a product of modern civilization and culture (552). He critiques the perceived dichotomy of nature and civilization as opposites. Thus, attempting to create or recreate nature by human hand is, in some way, an oxymoron created by our perception of the dichotomy of nature and civilization (552-553). His ultimate argument and conclusion is that this dichotomy must be resolved, and wilderness should not be perceived as something completely alienated from civilization, but both “somehow be encompassed in the word ‘home’” (Cronon 553). Thus, Cronon broadly questions the philosophy of our current views on nature and the motivation behind preserving it.

Nijhuis, meanwhile, discusses the more practical side of preservation, epitomized by the essay’s title: “Which Species Will Live?” She examines the processes that conservationists use to determine which plants and animals to preserve. Since preservation necessarily involves allocation of limited resources, it follows that conservationists must decide which species need to be preserved and which can be allowed to go extinct. This process is likened to medical triage, where military doctors choose in which the order of treating patients is determined, often involving dooming some of them to death (Nijhuis 77). The article explains three approaches to this decision making process, and mentions some species each of these approaches favors, and, conversely, which species are excluded from preservation efforts under them. However, there is no ultimate conclusion drawn in the article beyond the statement that “exhortation to save all species remains a worthy, and perhaps even necessary, goal” (Nijhuis 570). “Which Species Will Live?”, therefore, remains an overview article that explains the situation and presents a general view of the issues it discusses, but does not synthesize the information in any way.

Language and Tone

A significant difference exists in the language used and the overall tone of each essay’s message. Cronon’s article uses neutral language to deliver its arguments; colorful and somewhat casual, but not emotional. It often uses passages such as “the natural, unfallen antithesis of an unnatural civilization that has lost its soul” (Cronon 552). Cronon describes wilderness (or the perception of it) in terms of grand, poetic scale, as “the home of a God who transcends history, untouched by time’s arrow” (552). This underlines the work’s overall philosophical tone to deliver its final suggestion of reconciliation, a shift in philosophy. Nijhuis’ essay, conversely, relies on a more concise, academic language to articulate its points. However, it also uses more emotional phrases to emphasize the dramatic nature of the issues it discusses: “The decisions are agonizing but are considered essential for the greater good” (Nijhuis 565). In particular, the first paragraphs of the work, describing conferences that decided which species to preserve, make heavy use of emotional language: “a scientist would quietly shut down, shoulders slumped and eyes glazed” (Nijhuis 564). The article appeals to emotion as it tries to explain issues.

The two authors’ choice of language and tone interacts with the messages they convey with their work. “The Trouble with Wilderness” is consistent in its presentation and uses its language to point out contradictions in the philosophy of preservation efforts. Cronon sets the tone for the work by stating that “wilderness stands as the last place where civilization, that all-too-human disease, has not fully infected the earth” (550). This tone is consistent with the article’s argument, which does not constitute a call for action, only a reconsideration. In contrast, Nijhuis’ essay’s use of emotional language and arguments is less consistent with its message. One might expect a call for action after reading lines such as “do societies continue to pour money into a doomed cause or allow a species to die out, one by one, in plain sight?” (Nijhuis 569-570). However, the author continues with the overview without suggesting or proposing anything.

References and Personal Voice

Another difference between the essays is their relation to the writer’s opinion. “The Trouble with Wilderness” is entirely presented as Cronon’s personal view, thoughts, and appeal. He references events and actions, but provides his interpretation of them. When arriving at his conclusion, he specifically reinforces this notion by writing “Do not misunderstand me” (Cronon 552). Thus, Cronon establishes his essay as his personal view and makes the ultimate appeal personal. Nijhuis, on the other hand, uses a more academic tone and structure, avoiding injecting her personal opinions into her work or using personal pronouns. She often cites preservation experts’ opinions and statements to reinforce or clarify the points she explains. She concludes her overview by referring to a different scholar: “[John] Nagle says that the essence of the law, the Noah Principle, remains acutely relevant” (Nijhuis 570). Grounding her work in the views of the preservation experts, she shifts its presentation to express their views rather than hers. As such, it reinforces the fact that this issue is acknowledged by the scientific community and relevant to it.


The two essays examined concern the same broad subject of nature preservation. However, the articles differ greatly in their main subject and conclusions, the author’s voice, and their overall tone and use of language. Where “The Trouble with Wilderness” discusses the philosophy behind preservation in general, “Which Species Will Live?” provides an overview of the practical decision making process involved in it. The first article’s neutral, but poetic language is consistent with its philosophical subject and tone. The second utilizes an academic tone, but emphasizes its argument with emotional language, which is not consistent with its lack of proposed solutions or actions. Finally, Cronon presents his essay as a personal opinion without relying on the views of others, while Nijhuis’ essay presents its overview as objective, including statements from preservation experts. Thus, while the essays cover the same broad subject, many of their elements can be described as opposites.

Works Cited

Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness.” The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Nonfiction, edited by Melissa A. Goldthwaite et al., 14th ed., W.W. Norton, 2017, pp. 550-53.

Nijhuis, Michelle. “Which Species Will Live?” The Norton Reader: An Anthology of Nonfiction, edited by Melissa A. Goldthwaite et al., 14th ed., W.W. Norton, 2017, pp. 564-70.


About the author

we will assist you 24/7

Quick Contact

Keep current with the ESPOSEARCH Blog. Let’s get it written!

EspoSearch Ⓒ 2022 - All Rights Are Reserved