In a time of extinction and deterioration, “rewilding” is an idea that is gaining more ground. Rewilding refers to returning lands to a wild state and reintroducing native plants and animals in an effort to restore the ecosystem. The term “rewilding” was actually coined about 30 years ago, but officially entered the lexicon in 2011 when it was added to the dictionary. And it is an idea to which many can relate. For some, the managed and regulated world we are surrounded by does not lend itself to natural balance. And while there are groups that have taken rewilding to heart by literally going off the grid and living “naturally” in the woods, allowing wild areas to reclaim themselves may have a bigger and more effective impact on the environment as a whole.
The Rewilding Institute (http://rewilding.org/rewildit/) acts as a think tank devoted to the development, promotion and advancement of ideas and strategies to implement conservation on a continental scale. They are particularly concerned with habitat for large mammals, and hope to cultivate actionable, scientifically-based, paradigm-shifting plans for restoring connectivity and permeability to the lands for these animals.
The basis for rewilding, as adapted from “Rewilding North America,” by Dave Foreman, uses principles, techniques and methodologies from disciplines including; natural disturbance ecology, metapopulation theory, landscape-scale ecological restoration, extinction dynamics, island biogeography and top-down regulation by large carnivores. Ideally, rewilding would restore balance to large wilderness areas by focusing on the regulatory role of large predators, according to Soulè and Reed Noss in their landmark 1998 Wild Earth article “Rewilding and Biodiversity.” There is a solid scientific basis for this method of management for protected area design:
- Top-down trophic interactions, initiated by top predators, help maintain biodiversity within an ecosystem,
- Top predators usually maintain extensive ranges and so require large, contiguous, protected land to accomplish their seasonal movements and foraging,
- Continuity and connectivity are integral, core reserves will not be large enough to support predator populations or that of their prey.
The critical message here is that large predators are incredibly influential in preserving the integrity of ecosystems, and large predators require large tracts of contiguous land, therefore habitat conservation on a large-scale is very important. For more information check out “Rewilding North America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century” by Dave Foreman (Island Press 2004) and/or Continental Conservation: Scientific Foundations of Regional Reserve Networks edited by Michael E. Soulè and John Terborgh (Island Press 1999) which can be ordered through The Rewilding Institute.