Rewilding our Home

Written by Kajsa IngelssonDecember 23, 2019

These days it can seem pretty hopeless to live on this planet. 2019 delivered many catastrophic events, from massive forest fires all over the world, fukushima still dumping nuclear waste into our ocean and political leaders fueling inequality and destruction rather than pushing a green, compassionate agenda.

I’ve written about eco greif before, and if that’s what you are feeling (how can one not?) head over to this post to get some tips on how to get balanced.

Today I am writing to you because I got a clear message from our planet; Mother Nature has ways of bringing ecosystems back into balance.

Humans have only been around for a short while if you compare to the age of our earth. Nature was doing just fine at creating and maintaining a multitude of ecosystems long before we began to have an influence over the environment. And while the changes we’ve contributed to have had a significant impact on both plant and animal biodiversity, nature’s resilience is powerful enough to bounce back – if we just get out of the way.

There’s a name for this: Rewilding.

It’s been growing in popularity lately, but rewilding is by nothing new. In the 1970s and 1980s, as conservationist David Foreman was making waves in the world of environmental activism, he coined the term rewilding as a radical way of bringing nature back into balance.

Fast-forward to today and the concept has returned to the forefront of restoration ecology. Conservation organizations, researchers, and scientists around the world are preaching the benefits of the somewhat obscure conservation method for re-balancing ecosystems, protecting biodiversity, and even helping to fight climate change.

Landscape of Yosemite National Park

So what does it all mean?

Rewilding = to allow nature to take over a landscape, with the ultimate goal of minimum human intervention – direct or indirect – to allow wild spaces to thrive. In the beginning, however, rewilding often requires two important human interventions. 

1. Remove any barriers hindering nature’s ability to thrive. This means removing dams and dykes, putting a stop to active wildlife management, restoring connectivity between wild spaces (like building wildlife overpasses), and repairing and ending damage caused by human activity (like planting native tree species after widespread deforestation).

2. Reintroduce apex predators and keystone species. Animals like wolves, jaguars, elephants, bears, cougars, and the like play an outsized role in regulating ecosystems. They ensure species lower down on the food chain do not overpopulate and throw nature off balance.

One prime example of how key rewilding principles can be impactful are the wolves of Wyoming’s Yellowstone National Park.

Wolves were killed off in Yellowstone back in the 1930s. Before their reintroduction to the park in 1994, the ecosystem was unstable for decades. Elk populations rose to uncontrollable levels, which led to a reduction in the amount of trees in the park as they overfed on the saplings of the regenerating forest.

This in turn was detrimental to beavers, otters, and bears. Increased pressure on vegetation even caused the banks of rivers to change with fewer trees capable of holding the soil together, causing more erosion.

A pack of wolves standing on rocks howling

But once the wolves were allowed to return and proliferate unhindered by humans, the improvement to parks flora and fauna was extraordinary.

As natural prey for the wolves, elk numbers eventually reduced and the remaining population were driven off the banks of the rivers, allowing vegetation to regenerate. The trophic cascade that ensued brought back beavers, otters, bears, birds of prey, bison, and many of Yellowstone’s native tree stands returned in healthier and greater abundance.

All of this because humans let the wild be wild, and ironically reversed our own previous interference. 

In North America, rewilding is happening across the continent. The Y2Y initiative wants to connect the wild areas from Yellowstone Park all the way up to the Yukon in northern Canada. More than 2,000 miles in length, Y2Y seeks to remove human interference from the mountain ecosystem to ensure wildlife that once roamed the entirety of that range can return and prosper.

Ibex walking a rocky cliff in the mountains

Across the pond, organizations like Rewilding Europe are promoting large-scale wild spaces from the Iberian peninsula, to the coldest frontiers of Swedish Lapland, and the wetlands on the coast of the Black Sea in Ukraine. Even in just a short period of time, these projects are seeing bears, ibex, and wolves return to the landscape after decades of absence.

Ibex walking a rocky cliff in the mountains

Further east, India has taken a keen interest rewilding and creating an environment where the wild and humans co-exist. In parts of the country, leopards and tigers are left to roam unhindered despite their threat to livestock and villagers. The trade-off coming in the form of a healthier ecosystem and an increase in tourism, creating jobs and improving livelihoods.

So fear not my eco-warriors.

Whenever you feel that despair and grief kick in, go support some rewilding projects and know that you are doing a good deed.

There are a lot of ways you can give back to the planet: you can plant trees, clean up the oceans, reduce your carbon footprint, or stop using single-use plastics.