Before the age of agriculture, humans and animals lived in relative harmony. Societies were primarily hunter-gatherers, meaning that people traveled from site to site without having a permanent impact on the environment. However, since the Industrial Revolution, the human impact on the environment has increased dramatically.
Native grasslands became cornfields and woodlands became suburban developments. With so much change so quickly, the damage to these ecosystems has been devastating. Species extinction, habitat and biodiversity loss and soil pollution are just a few factors at play. However, there’s good news. While these problems won’t go away immediately, there’s something we can do about it.
Rewilding, to put it simply, is a process of leaving the land alone. However, unlike the wilderness movement of the 20th century, rewilding doesn’t aim just to protect certain landscapes while devastating the rest. It is about building a new type of agricultural economy — one that works with the natural ecosystem to preserve habitat while still producing food.
Instead of viewing humans as separate from nature, rewilding works to manage land in a way that benefits all aspects of the environment.
How It Works
Rewilding is considered a progressive approach to conservation. Restoring damaged ecosystems by encouraging natural processes not only brings back wildlife, but also plays a role in human well-being. With the climate emergency at hand, improving degraded land is beneficial to us as well.
While it can be utilized in any ecological setting, it most often refers to grasslands. According to scientific research, animals — primarily herbivores — and grasslands co-evolved for millions of years, shaping an ecosystem founded on their beneficial interactions.
One of the most well-known rewilding projects took place in the 1990s in Yellowstone National Park. The area had removed a critical natural predator, the wold, for years, and the ecosystem suffered because of its absence. By reintroducing wolves, Yellowstone was able to manage deer and elk populations more effectively. In addition, they also contributed to healthier water systems and natural migratory pathways.
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Possible Benefits of Rewilding
It is a fantastic solution to boosting the recovery of keystone species and restoring natural food chains. By supporting and bringing back natural predators, conservation efforts can support the return of vital parts of the ecosystem.
Another benefit is its impact on human beings. Restoring ecological systems cleans the air and water, prevents flooding and stores carbon. Unlike traditional conservation efforts that focus primarily on preserving a landscape just as it is, rewilding hopes to bridge the gap between modern economies and ecological systems. Rewilding may boost local economies by creating nature-based enterprises and making rural communities more resilient in the face of climate change.
The benefits of rewilding are multi-faceted, as they hold both social and environmental benefits. Human societies face serious dilemmas over how to better live with the earth in an increasingly populous civilization without harming it. However, implementing rewilding projects may be a lengthy process, especially as society looks for quick solutions to climate change, rather than solutions that take years to unfold.
While there are many benefits of rewilding, we have to acknowledge possible drawbacks as well. The truth is, the long-term impact is relatively unknown. We may have successful examples to study, but most have not been in place for very long, making it hard to measure the extent of its impact.
Additionally, there are logistical limitations in rewilding certain landscapes. Private property, decreasing land values and farmer concerns about natural predators are just some of the possible issues. To most effectively implement new rewilding projects, land managers will need to incentivize stakeholders first.
Criticisms center mostly on the lack of reliable data on project outcomes. It is hard to measure what the benefits will be, especially when restoring a damaged ecosystem. There are so many features to consider, from pollinator habitat to waterway restoration and air quality. Only time will tell how well it functions as a conservation practice.
An Innovative Conservation Practice
Rewilding offers a modern approach to environmental conservation by addressing nature management and nature policy in one ecosystem. It aims to return the land to a less disturbed state, introducing free-roaming animals and letting natural processes take place uninterrupted.
Unlike traditional conservation efforts, rewilding does not preserve land in its current state. Instead, it works to improve it. The process acknowledges the human responsibility for land management. It engages humans with their environment, rather than keeping them separate from it.
With millions of acres of land being converted into urban development or used for industry, it is more important than ever to rethink how we manage the land. Instead of viewing the environment as something that has either economic value or ecological value, we need to understand the ecosystem as having both.