Rewilding is a word that seems to be everywhere these days. It might be used to describe efforts to sustain a backyard wildflower field or plans to protect large predators across the nation.
As a wildlife gardener, I think of myself as rewilding when I allow shrubs and plants to grow up in a corner of my yard to provide habitat for the snakes, lizards and other creatures.
In North Carolina, red wolves, a species surviving only in captivity 40 years ago, have been reintroduced to the wild in the eastern part of the state through a species recovery program instituted by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Definitely rewilding.
Then there’s the movement for humans to go back to their more primitive roots by engaging in paleo diets and spending extra time outdoors.
Author Daniel Vitalis’s ReWild Yourself workshops extoll the benefits of soaking in hot springs and swimming in ponds, basking in natural sunlight, walking in the woods, even hunting and gathering.
Singles and couples can enjoy an upscale weekend along those lines at Tennessee’s Blackberry Farm resort, which offers a series of Deep Healing Woods activities for “psychological and physiological benefits.” Also known as “forest bathing,” the practice of spending time beneath a canopy of trees in a natural setting is known in Japan as Shinrin-yoku, described (at shinrin-yoku.org) as “gentle, guided walks that support well-being through sensory immersion in forests and other naturally healing environments.”
Parenting expert Richard Louv steps in to help families who think their children may be missing out on outdoor time with his books “Last Child in the Woods,” “Vitamin N” and others that encourage parents to get kids unplugged and out of the house into nature — through camping, hiking, exploring earth and bio sciences and other activities. According to Louv, a “nature deficit” can be linked to such childhood trends as obesity, attention disorders and even depression.
Of course, all this comes at a time when concerns about biodiversity and human population growth are widespread, nagging the consciences of many average citizens like me as well the scientific community.
Internationally preeminent conservation biologist E. O. Wilson predicts that by 2100, nearly half of all species will be gone, amounting to a mass extinction nearing the scope of previous events that set back evolutionary biodiversity thousands if not millions of years.
Assuming that humans are part of nature and that our future relies on a web of biodiversity, some have proposed a pretty drastic plan to preserve as many species as possible in the great circle of life. In a 1998 Wild Earth magazine article, biologists Michael Soule and Reed Noss wrote about preserving large swaths of the North American continent as safe haven for all types of animals, including large predators such as mountain lions and grizzly bears.
Why? Because predators play an outsized role in regulating the interactions of other animals, both predators and prey, in the ecosystem. For example, where coyotes exist, they control populations of small predators, which allows the bird population to flourish, some of whom serve as pollinators for food crops that humans require to survive.
Because large predators require extensive space, the authors propose providing corridors of nature to connect wild areas in different regions. Thus, this rewilding movement takes a continental perspective, creating opportunities for predators to roam from south to north in western Canada and the U.S. This would enable “restoration of mountain lions in suitable habitat throughout their former range in North America, from Florida up through the Appalachian Mountains to the Canadian Maritimes, from New England through Ontario to the Upper Great Lakes to the Rockies, from Texas across to Florida, and up through the Ozarks to the Upper Great Lakes,” according to rewilding.com.
In Carolina Frazer’s 2009 book “Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution,” she mentions a number of rewilding projects that have been created to restore “mega linkages” across continents, such as the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative and establishment of protected transboundary parks in Africa.
I realize I now have wandered far from typical wildlife gardening column subject matter – but, in a sense, maybe this topic is not such a leap after all.
As has become clear from the science of Charles Darwin to research ongoing today, the way that humans handle the Earth determines a lot about how the Earth treats humans. Maybe I can’t build a continental pathway where grizzly bears and elk can roam, but I can at least reflect on how all living things are connected as I do my part to restore a small part of the ecosystem outside my back door.
Reach Renee Elder at firstname.lastname@example.org.