Henry David Thoreau wryly noted that he’d traveled a good deal about Concord. His famous prescription for health was four hours a day of ambling about home – for him, luckily, his cabin on Walden Pond.
Many of us now who are fortunate enough to be healthy and well-fed and to live near natural areas are living on something akin to this Thoreauvian diet – eschewing distant travels during the pandemic in favor of local wanderings. We walk about admiring the wildflowers and listening to the songbirds, but also get lost in thought wondering how to counter the terrible trends we hear of daily, on spreading coronavirus, racial injustices, species endangerment, dismantlement of conservation protections, climate unraveling, and more.
At The Rewilding Institute in this parlous time, we applaud not only those who help less fortunate folks to get out to healing wild places, but also those who are working to restore wildness near where people live. Rewilding, as our resident environmental historian John Miles wrote some months back, should be practiced at all scales, from local to global.
Rewilding, as we’ve also written before, is about giving wildlife back to the land and the land back to wildlife; it is about helping Nature heal. Much rewilding has been largely passive, as here in Adirondack Park, where New York State a century ago wisely set aside forest lands as Forever Wild and has let them slowly heal after past logging. Some rewilding, though, will necessarily be active, needing people to intervene on Nature’s behalf. To use Adirondack Park as an example again, most of the species extirpated by early Euro-American settlers have returned on their own as the land has been protected; but some of the top predators, particularly Puma, Wolf, American Eel, Lake Trout, and Land-locked Atlantic Salmon, need our deliberate help (for reasons explained in other Rewilding Earth articles; see particularly Puma Recovery for Eastern Wildways, Part 1, with links to Parts 2, 3, and 4, if they are to recover before untoward trophic cascades cause lasting damage to regional forests and streams.
Active rewilding should employ millions of people, from all racial and ethnic and economic and gender groups, across North America and other continents in coming decades. Reversing the unwitting damage of our ancestors will involve enlisting many, diverse people far and wide to study wildlife movement, install safe wildlife crossings, replant denuded stream banks, tear down dams and walls, obliterate roads, remove exotic species, release missing native species, and otherwise help make Earth a safe home for all species and all types within each species.
While our own focus at Rewilding Earth (rewilding.org) tends to be at the regional and continental scales, we celebrate and hope to increasingly cover local-level rewilding work, too. Local rewilding work can help form bonds between conservationists and city residents, who often come from less privileged – or, frankly, more oppressed – backgrounds.
We also hope to increasingly cover, and participate in, species and land restoration efforts led by native tribes. Much great rewilding work – including bison and salmon restoration – is being done by native tribes, or First Nations peoples, in North America. In Africa and South America, probably most rewilding at least involves working with local peoples, while again much of it is led by native groups.
The American conservation movement has been disproportionately white and male, admittedly, but it is diversifying. Thankfully, more and more of the leaders in wilderness and wildlife work are women as is increased diversity in color. At The Rewilding Institute, we want to help foster these trends toward diversity and inclusivity by offering Rewilding Earth as a forum for covering rewilding work carried out in different cultures and varying places; and by offering our expertise and our muscles in on-ground work. We also want Rewilding Earth to be a life-affirming forum for respectful debates on some of the vexing questions at the interface of conservation, politics, and society. A few examples of tough questions that could generate lively and helpful debates are these:
- How can we peacefully, compassionately, and in culturally appropriate ways lower human numbers – in terms of population and consumption – to ecologically sustainable levels? (This stabilization is probably most important in affluent countries like the US, where per capita consumption is highest.)
- With whom and for what purposes should we form alliances – with animal rights groups? hunters and anglers? native tribes? organic farmers? social justice groups?
- How can we become more diverse as a rewilding community and more widely embraced and helpful across different walks of life?
Our own focus as an organization will always be on protecting and restoring the homes and livelihoods of other species, on speaking out for the wild Earth, but we also stand in ethical solidarity with Black Lives Matter and other groups working for justice within human society. As individuals, we march with Black Lives Matter and we protest the US border wall. As an organization, we work to stem the extinction and climate crises – which will disproportionately harm people of color, as well as other species. Halting these overarching crises of our time will also make pandemics, like the one we humans are all now suffering, less likely.
With all ecological and social crises, which are related and must be addressed simultaneously (even if by different groups), open, honest, scientifically-informed conversation should help. At The Rewilding Institute, we have sometimes been criticized for our emphasizing the problem of human overpopulation as a driver of the extinction and climate crises. Recently, we were upset to hear of a leading conservation philanthropy foundation – after decades of thoughtful and effective support for biodiversity protection – being essentially ostracized by some of its former grantees, because of its support for groups that confront the population problem. This seems to me double trouble, as it apparently ignores the fact that we cannot stop the extinction and climate crises without addressing the fundamental problem of too many people — especially too many affluent Americans — consuming too many resources; while also effectively enforcing a taboo on population discussions. We need healthy open debate on these tough issues, not banishment of groups willing to take difficult stands.
A lighter interlude for a moment: Rewilding Earth now has a second annual print anthology available, and it turned out beautifully! Please order copies for your friends and family.
Tastefully and sparingly, we soon start bringing into Rewilding Earth on-line modest advertisements from companies we like to support. We hope in the future to attract enough ecologically-appropriate advertising to cover many of our ongoing production costs. Please tell us if you have a business or group that would like to be featured as a sponsor.
Rambling back to the present, tumultuous times, the role of Rewilding Earth in this time of pandemic and racial injustice crises, added to the ongoing extinction and climate crises, is to provide a forum for sharing success stories and lessons on protection and restoration of wild places and their creatures – to celebrate coexistence and justice for all. So, please share with us your stories and lessons from far and wide on park and wilderness protection, wildway emplacement, species reintroductions, stream restoration, dam removals, road closures, coexistence with carnivores, and other good work to make Planet Earth a healthy home for all.
As we Rewilding Earth editors and writers are asked, more and more, what does rewilding have to do with the mounting struggles for social justice and for public health, some of us come back to the immortal declaration of our founder Dave Foreman: Earth First! No Compromise in Defense of Mother Earth.
Dave and his Earth First! movement co-founders (including TRI’s esteemed president Susan Morgan and recent RE podcaster Howie Wolke) were speaking out boldly, uncompromisingly, for wild Nature, but they also saw their new movement as complementary to and learning from civil rights and peace movements. Indeed, Earth First! activists in the 1980s & 90s studied and borrowed from the non-violent civil disobedience tactics genteelly suggested by Thoreau, courageously practiced by Ghandi, and brilliantly perfected by Martin Luther King (with whom my grandfather marched, I’m proud to say). Perhaps no other modern American activist can match the record of the late great John Lewis, who was arrested or beaten dozens of times for championing love between all peoples, but I believe it has been the same altruistic impulse that has prompted Dave Foreman, Judi Bari, John Seed, Julia Butterfly Hill, Paul Watson, Colleen McCrory, Rod Coronado, untold numbers of unsung indigenous heroes, and other peaceful resisters to put their bodies in front of the machines that would once again turn life into money.
In short, the rewilding movement is part of a long lineage of peaceful resistance to the forces that oppress other species and other types of people. Where perhaps we diverge from some of our predecessors is in offering specific, active ways to make things better for the other tens of millions of species. In Rewilding Earth, we may not always be politically correct, but we are intellectually honest and ethically true to a heritage that recognizes: if we are to make the world a better place for ourselves, our neighbors (wild and human), our offspring, and the offspring of all our fellow Earthlings, we must respect and honor Others – from members of our same species with different skin color or different sexual orientation, to top carnivores who are enough like us that we fear them, to creatures so different from us (imagine Archaea!) we have only recently become aware of them. Beyond merely voicing our support for Others, we must physically engage in the work of reversing past damage to their homes and giving them the space they need – at least half of Earth in Nature reserves and most of the rest gently shared.
The undeniable common ground we all share is our habitation of one fragile biosphere – Planet Earth, wild Nature. Let’s learn to work together to help Nature heal.
John Davis, scout and editor Rewilding Earth
early August 2020,
rambling and writing in Split Rock Wildway, eastern Adirondack Park, as tropical storm Isaias pounds us in one day with more precipitation than we’ve seen in the past two months.
John Davis is executive director of The Rewilding Institute and editor of Rewilding Earth. For Rewilding, he serves as a wildways scout, editor, interviewer, and writer. He rounds out his living with conservation field work, particularly within New York’s Adirondack Park, where he lives. John serves on boards of RESTORE: The North Woods, Eddy Foundation, Champlain Area Trails, Cougar Rewilding Foundation, and Algonquin to Adirondack Conservation Collaborative.
John served as editor of Wild Earth journal from 1991-96, when he went to work for the Foundation for Deep Ecology, overseeing their Biodiversity and Wildness grants program from 1997-2002. He then joined the Eddy Foundation as a board member and continues to serve as volunteer land steward for that foundation in its work to conserve lands in Split Rock Wildway. This wildlife corridor links New York’s Champlain Valley with the Adirondack High Peaks via the West Champlain Hills. John served as conservation director of the Adirondack Council from 2005 to 2010.
In 2011, John completed TrekEast, a 7600-mile muscle-powered exploration of wilder parts of the eastern United States and southeastern Canada—sponsored by Wildlands Network and following lines suggested in Dave Foreman’s book Rewilding North America—to promote restoration and protection of an Eastern Wildway. In 2012, John wrote a book about that adventure, Big, Wild, and Connected: Scouting an Eastern Wildway from Florida to Quebec, published by Island Press.
In 2013, John trekked from Sonora, Mexico, north along the Spine of the Continent as far as southern British Columbia, Canada, again ground-truthing Rewilding North America and promoting habitat connections, big wild cores, and apex predators—all of which would be well served by fuller protection of the Western Wildway he explored. John continues to work with many conservation groups to protect and reconnect wild habitats regionally and continentally.
John is available to give public talks on rewilding, conservation exploration, and continental wildways, as well as to write and edit on these subjects. He is also available for contract field work, particularly monitoring conservation easements, documenting threats to wildlands, and marking conservation boundaries. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com (for his land-care work).