The EcoWild Program
Around The Campfire
(Adapted from Rewilding North
Six areas of recent ecological research—extinction dynamics, island
biogeography, metapopulation theory, natural disturbance ecology,
top-down regulation by large carnivores, and landscape-scale
ecological restoration—are the foundation for all informed protected
area design. They are brought together in the idea and scientific
approach of rewilding, developed by Michael Soulč in the
mid-1990s. Rewilding is “the scientific argument for restoring big
wilderness based on the regulatory roles of large predators,”
according to Soulč and Reed Noss in their landmark 1998 Wild
Earth article “Rewilding and Biodiversity.”
Three major scientific arguments constitute the rewilding argument
and justify the emphasis on large predators. First, the structure,
resilience, and diversity of ecosystems is often maintained by
“top-down” ecological (trophic) interactions that are initiated by
top predators. Second, wide-ranging predators usually require large
cores of protected landscape for foraging, seasonal movements, and
other needs; they justify bigness. Third, connectivity is also
required because core reserves are typically not large enough in
most regions; they must be linked to insure long-term viability of
wide-ranging species.…In short, the rewilding argument posits that
large predators are often instrumental in maintaining the integrity
of ecosystems. In turn, the large predators require extensive space
If native large carnivores have been killed out of a region, their
reintroduction and recovery is the heart of a conservation strategy.
Wolves, cougars, lynx, wolverines, grizzly and black bears, jaguars,
sea otters, and other top carnivores need to be restored throughout
North America in ecologically effective densities in their natural
ranges where suitable habitat remains or can be restored.
(Obviously, large areas of North America have been so modified by
humans and support such large human populations or intensive
agriculture that rewilding is not feasible.) Without the goal of
rewilding for large areas with large carnivores, we are closing our
eyes to what conservation really means—and demands. Disney
cinematographer Lois Crisler, after years of filming wolves in the
Arctic, wrote, “Wilderness without animals is dead—dead scenery.
Animals without wilderness are a closed book.”
Soulč and Noss “recognize three independent features that
characterize contemporary rewilding:
• Large, strictly protected core reserves (the wild)
• Keystone species.”
In shorthand, these are “the three C's: Cores, Corridors, and
Although Soulč and Noss state, “Our principal premise is that
rewilding is a critical step in restoring self-regulating land
communities,” they claim two non-scientific justifications: (1) “the
ethical issue of human responsibility,” and (2) “the subjective,
emotional essence of ‘the wild’ or wilderness. Wilderness is hardly
‘wild’ where top carnivores, such as cougars, jaguars, wolves,
wolverines, grizzlies, or black bears have been extirpated. Without
these components, nature seems somehow incomplete, truncated, overly
tame. Human opportunities to attain humility are reduced.”
When we kill
off big cats, wolves, and other wild hunters, we lose not only
prominent species, but also the key ecological and evolutionary
process of top-down regulation. Restoring large carnivores is
essential for landscape-level ecological restoration, as is the
restoration of other highly interactive species, and natural
processes such as fire and flood.
Because many conservation groups, scientists, and agencies are
involved in small-scale restoration and local biodiversity
protection, The Rewilding Institute’s emphasis is on rewilding as
the means for landscape and continental restoration.
Rewilding is a
landmark for the wilderness conservation movement as well as for
those primarily concerned with protecting biological diversity.
Soulč and others have crafted the scientific basis for the
need to protect and restore big wilderness-area complexes. Here
science buttresses the wants and values of wilderness
recreationists. Big wilderness areas are not only necessary for
inspiration and a true wilderness experience, but are necessary for
the protection and restoration of ecological integrity and native
Rewilding North America by Dave Foreman [Chapter 8]. Copyright ©
2004 by the author. Reproduced by permission of Island Press,
Washington, D.C. Quotes are from the books and papers below.)
See also the Wildlife
Recovery Vision page.
America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century
by Dave Foreman (Island Press 2004).
Order from The Rewilding Institute.
Conservation: Scientific Foundations of Regional Reserve Networks
edited by Michael E. Soulč and John Terborgh (Island Press
1999). Order from The Rewilding Institute.
Available as PDF:
Available in a book
Michael E. Soulč and
John Terborgh, “The Policy and Science of Regional Conservation,”
Chapter 1 in Continental Conservation.
PDFs not yet
Michael Soulč and Reed
Noss, “Rewilding and Biodiversity as Complementary Goals for
Continental Conservation,” Wild Earth, Fall 1998, 22. Will
soon be available as a PDF.