Failure to recognize landscapes moulded over centuries by human activity has blinded outsiders (notably land-use planners) to the management practices of indigenous peoples and traditional local communities. Such landscapes may appear pristine to the untrained eye and solely the result of natural forces. This becomes especially serious when the practices that have sustained the landscape embody principles of sustainable development which outsiders have only recently acknowledged.
Through ignorance or negligence, nature can be defined by travellers, including scientists, as 'wild' and 'wilderness' denying the involvement of those who have traditionally engaged in its effective maintenance. Such visitors then feel free to appropriate land that may appear to be uninhabited and without owners, or indicate that it is available for such exploitation. Traditional indigenous communities are then defined as having no tenurial or ownership rights. Their lands become free for the taking, especially if their relationship to that land is – in their own terms – not defined as one of ownership but rather of stewardship. Similarly the biodiversity of a site may be defined as natural, thereby transferring it to the public domain, thus stripping its communities of all rights to their traditional resources.
The term 'wilderness' as it is popularly used, and related concepts such as 'wild resources', 'wild foods' are unacceptable. These terms have inappropriate connotations of terra nullius, namely as empty or unowned. All concerned should look for an alternative terminology that does not exclude indigenous history and its meaning.