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What Is Rewilding?

I keep six honest serving-men:
(They taught me all I knew)
Their names are What and Where and When,
and How and Why and Who.

-- Rudyard Kipling, "The Elephant's Child" (poem), Just So Stories, 1902

Rewilding is comprehensive, often large-scale, conservation effort focused on restoring sustainable biodiversity and ecosystem health by protecting core wild/wilderness areas, providing connectivity between such areas, and protecting or reintroducing apex predators and highly interactive species (keystone species).

The shorthand definition of Rewilding is the "3 C's"--conservation of Cores, Corridors, and Carnivores. The ultimate goal of rewilding efforts is to mitigate the species extinction crisis and restore healthy and sustainable ecosystem function in areas that require little or no human intervention or management. (See: The Science Behind Continental Scale Conservation)

That vision is of dynamic but stable self-regulating and self-sustaining ecosystems with near pre-human levels of species diversity. John Davis observed that "Rewilding, in essence, is giving the land back to wildlife, and wildlife back to the land."

grizzly rewilding

(c) Susan Morgan

Where is Rewilding necessary or appropriate?

Rewilding was originally envisioned as a continental-scale effort in North America with protection of large wilderness cores, suitable habitat corridors for wildlife movement, and recovery of large carnivores. Over the ensuing three decades, the term "Rewilding" has also been applied to national-, regional-, state-, and local-scale efforts and extended globally to South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, New Zealand, and more.

Rewilding is necessary wherever the balance of ecosystem function has been perturbed--where sufficient wild lands are not protected, connectivity has been compromised, or biodiversity has been diminished. Bird, butterfly, and other airborne species breeding places, wintering places, and their aerial migration pathways, and similar ecological components of marine species would also be appropriate for rewilding.

Key to the meaning and history of the word “rewilding” and the work of rewilding is the origin of the word and the work.

"Some 30 years ago, Dave Brower was promoting Global CPR (Conserve – Protect – Restore) and ecological restoration was being widely promoted. Ecological restoration was about restoring the ecological process (such as making a wetland) but not so concerned with the native species that may have been lost. I meant rewilding to instead be about wilderness restoration – restoring wildness with native species and processes. So, let us all remember that rewilding comes from wilderness recovery (or restoration)."

~Dave Foreman

(Listen to Dave talk about Rewilding on Episode 1 of the Rewilding Earth Podcast)

Dave Foreman & Misty © Dave Foreman

Dave Foreman & Misty © Dave Foreman

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How is Rewilding achieved?

Rewilding at any scale first requires identifying wild -- or nearly wild or potentially wild -- core areas, determining what habitats are present, what species are present, and assessing the general health of the ecosystem. More difficult is to determine if there are pollutants or poisons present, or if any species have been extirpated, and whether any habitable wildlife corridors exist connecting with other cores. Determining the history, ownership, and politics of the land. (See also: Criteria For Ecological Wilderness)

Determining whether there are human developments on portions of the land that complicate the situation. In some instances, relatively simple actions such as enacting legal protection, stopping inappropriate hunting or fishing or harvesting, removing barriers such as fences or roads or dams, and allowing the area to rewild on its own through benign neglect are sufficient. (See also: Landscape Permeability)

In other more complex instances, ecological engineering, physical (re)construction, planting of depleted or extirpated native plant species, and (re)introduction of depleted or extirpated native wildlife species--especially highly interactive species such as beaver or wolf--may be required. The larger the scale, the more complex the land ownership, and the greater the degree of human development, the more difficult the rewilding. (See also: Healing The Ecological Wounds of North America)

what is rewilding

Lynx (c) Susan Morgan

Why is Rewilding important?

  • Because science (conservation biology) data argues that the structure, diversity, and resilience of ecosystems is often maintained by "top-down" ecologic (trophic) interactions that are initiated by top predators.

  • Because the same science data argues that bigness is justified, as wide-ranging predators usually require large cores of protected wild landscape habitat for foraging, seasonal movements, and other needs.

  • Because science data further argues that connectivity between cores is also required, as remaining core reserves in most regions are typically not large enough.

  • Because of the moral argument that humans have a responsibility to other species to restore self-regulating and self-sustaining ecological communities.

  • Because science (ecopsychology) argues that "people need nature" for the mental and physical well-being gained by experiencing nature, particularly the subjective and emotional essence of "the wild" or wilderness.

corvid rewilding

Raven (c) Susan Morgan

Who is (or should be) involved in Rewilding?

Everyone has a vested interest in rewilding, therefore every individual should at least be aware of and somewhat knowledgeable about rewilding.

Ecologically-minded individual conservationists such as Dave Foreman and John Davis, conservation biologists such as Michael Soule and Reed Noss, and many other individuals did most of the original work on rewilding. In the United States and Canada, organizations like The Rewilding Institute and The Wildlands Network (formerly The Wildlands Project), the Yellowstone to Yukon group, the Sky Island Alliance, and the Grand Canyon Wildlands Council have also contributed greatly to rewilding efforts.

Unfortunately, neither the U.S. nor Canadian nor Mexican governments have contributed significant effort or funds, and government personnel often are unaware of rewilding needs and possibilities.

rewilding

(c) Susan Morgan

Personal Action

This page is intended to get you started. The Rewilding Institute provides a great deal of information for further personal involvement. Explore and learn from the articles, videos, podcasts, and links at rewilding.org and then contribute your energy and voice and funding to whatever rewilding effort you find most meaningful. Share this site with friends and acquaintances who also care about wildlife and ecosystems. 

Follow Rewilding on: Twitter | Facebook | Instagram | LinkedIn

Print copies of this article to give out, and make a stack of copies available at your next event. Join a local group of environmentalists, hikers, birders, etc. and talk with them about rewilding. Talk with politicians about rewilding, and about specific component steps such as wilderness protection, barrier removal, pollutant reduction and elimination and species reintroduction. If you can, provide funds to organizations working on rewilding.

For a quick breakdown of Rewilding, check out Executive Director John Davis' latest article "Rewilding Distilled."

Rewilding Distilled
By John Davis Rewilding, in essence, is giving the land back to wildlife and wildlife back to the land. It[...]

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