YES FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
NO FROM EXPERTS IN THE FIELD
REWILDING IS OUR best hope for stemming the mass extinction crisis that threatens half the species inhabiting Earth today.
Simply stated, rewilding entails restoring wild nature on a grand scale: bringing
back key species we have thoughtlessly eradicated, reviving essential ecological processes like pollination and carbon storage, and reconnecting habitats so wildlife can
move safely through the landscape. Rewilding emphasizes the recovery of large carnivores—gray and red wolves, cougars, jaguars, grizzly bears, wolverines—that were
driven out by people, but that scientists now recognize as being vital to the health of
our natural communities. If we restore such wide-ranging carnivores and protect the
wild pathways they need to survive, we enhance the diversity of life on our planet,
create strongholds against unwanted invasive species and nourish the natural environment that supports our own population, too.
In practice, rewilding means bald eagles, peregrine falcons and California condors returning from the brink of extinction; gray wolves restoring riparian habitats in
Yellowstone National Park; and reintroduced red wolves regulating deer herds in
Rewilding also means grizzly bears grazing Rocky Mountain prairies for the first
time in decades, Mexican jaguars hunting javelinas in Arizona’s Sky Islands and cougars reclaiming old haunts in the Badlands and Black Hills of the Dakotas.
And rewilding means wild salmon once again running rivers after dams are
removed, and native forests reclaiming abandoned agricultural lands while ecologically sustainable farming provides us with wholesome food and fiber.
In North America, rewilding advocates are collaborating with communities to
restore wildlife in wilderness areas throughout the East and West, piecing together
conservation and recreation corridors along the Pacific crest, Rocky and Appalachian
mountains, Great Plains, north woods and southeast coastal plain.
Working with our neighbors—both human and wild—we can restore North
America’s great natural heritage for the future. C
THE UNIQUE ASPECT of rewilding involves introducing new species, usually top
predators and important plant-eaters, with the hope of restoring ecosystem functions
that operated during the Pleistocene epoch, before humans ate the big animals. It’s
this aspect that makes me very nervous.
In a simple food chain, we expect predators to eat herbivores, which in turn eat
plants. Without the predators, the herbivore numbers swell and the plant abundances can dwindle. So, if we are losing native predators or herbivores, restoring
them may help restore balance to our natural systems. But what if the predators and
herbivores disappeared thousands of years ago from a world with different climates,
soils and communities? And what if we replace them with modern substitutes from
Real ecosystems are complex, which is why rewilding gives me nightmares about
invasive species. The Nile perch, a top fish predator, destroyed hundreds of unique
species of fish after it was introduced to Lake Victoria. When we research a pest to
find the best exotic species to control it, we often make mistakes and cause negative
effects on native species (try Googling “cane toads”). If we choose rewilding species
specifically because they can restructure systems, we should expect any miscalculations to have fantastically big non-target effects.
Rewilding schemes often focus on reintroducing predators or keystone species
(the species without which a system cannot survive). But reintroducing keystones
doesn’t make sense because any currently functioning system must have its keystones
or the system would already have imploded. In fact, rewilding introductions could
have devastating non-target effects on current keystones.
Finally, predators can have the devastating effects of the Nile perch, but they also
can run afoul of humans. We are the new top predators in many systems, and predators from other continents scare us, which means we kill them or fight the conservation policy, neither of which leads to success. C
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John Davis works
with Wildlands Network (wildlandsnet
work.org) and The
Martha F. Hoopes
is associate professor of biological
sciences at Mount