March 01, 2018

Rewilding and the Promise of a Raucous Future

Andrew C. Mergen

The term “rewilding” has come to describe the reintroduction of animals or plants to their original habitat or efforts to return land to a more natural state. In Europe, the rewilding movement has taken hold. In the Netherlands, Oostvaardersplassen is a large polder—a diked landscape—that over the course of 30 years transformed into an internationally recognized wetland. The success of this preserve has inspired many visions of a wilder Europe. In the United States, significant federal rewilding efforts include the reintroduction of the California condor to its former habitat in California and the Southwest, the reintroduction of wolves to the Yellowstone ecosystem, and, with the removal of a dam, the restoration of a free-flowing Elwha River on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington. Federal efforts at rewilding almost certainly will diminish under the current administration. However, efforts by other governmental and nongovernmental groups continue, and some have begun rewilding efforts. In Florida, for example, the endangered Indigo snake is being reintroduced onto lands managed by the Nature Conservancy. In Hawaii, a state/federal/private partnership seeks to restore the extinct in the wild Hawaiian crow to native forests. Sovereign Indian tribes in the western United States are seeking the reintroduction of species such as pronghorn antelope and California condors to their lands. As the British writer and activist George Monbiot observed, rewilding represents a departure from the preservationist movements of the twentieth century. Those movements focused on saving lands and animals to avoid a “silent spring,” while rewilding envisions what Monbiot calls a “raucous summer” in which lands and animals are not preserved but restored and destructive processes are not halted but “thrown into reverse.” George Monbiot, Feral (2013).

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