Rewilding is one of the most effective forms of conservation. We have proof that it works! So why are there still some against it? Well, because it’s effectiveness is the result of its aggressiveness, an aggressiveness that has a negative impact on small rural farmers. We have to more closely examine one of the three aspects that were outlined in Soule and Noss’s (1998) definition: reintroducing keystone predators back into habitats where humans once chased them out (p. 5). The fundamental idea of this top-down theory is that by bringing apex predators (Smith, 2015) back into a habitat, they serve as a regulator to restore balance and rejuvenate the ecosystem. Great! Let’s have less tigers in zoos and more in the jungles of India. But wait a moment, these animals were relocated, or hunted to the brink of extinction to make room for human populations. I identify as a supporter of rewilding, myself, but I live in an urban environment where I am far removed from the fear of large predators preying on my domesticated animals or having to worry about protecting my family from large carnivores. For some, in rural areas where people are looking to implement rewilding programs, this is a reality that they must face.
What a difficult situation to be in, to have to choose between saving animals and saving humans. For years, shepherds in the Pyrenees Mountains have been negotiating and even protesting against the government to block brown bear reintroduction in the area for fear of losing their flocks (“We don’t”, 2011). Even if only a fraction of their livestock are killed by bears, to the rural farmer that makes a tremendous difference for their way of life. However, in as recent as 2014, only 22 bears were reported to be living in the area, and all of them a part of the rewilding efforts taking place there (Willsher, 2014). This tragically low number seems to me, to be a crisis that requires attention.
The National Farmers Union is one of the leading voices speaking out against rewilding. Phil Bicknell (2015), the chief economist for the union, wrote on the topic of land choice because it is one thing to begin a restoration project on protected land, such as a national park or forest, but it is an entirely other thing to choose land so close to civilization. Bicknell, points out that the land could instead be used to build up Britain’s economy by creating more agricultural jobs. The need for more jobs to boost a society’s economic growth is a familiar topic. So where do we draw the line? At what point do we say that we are being selfish and need to think of the diminishing numbers of these displaced animals? With a large-scale restoration project such as rewilding, every arguement needs to be taken into consideration.
Although the project is at such a large-scale, the farmer’s voice is still under-represented. This is probably due to the fact that rewilding is so young, and not as widely discussed. As of now, I believe that the main goal of rewilding is get the word out that this becomes a more discussed and viable option for conservation. Most of what I see in my own research are overwhelmingly positive results that lend to my optimistic attitude that this is the right choice for saving both endangered and extinct species as well as their dwindling habitats. But before rewilders try to bring hippos back to Trafalgar Square, or more realistically, farmlands; the safety of humans and their domesticated animals already living in that area need to be considered. It needs to be discussed whether by working to positively impact the environment, we are negatively impacting humans. Conservation efforts need to strike a balance so that humans and nature may co-exist.
Bicknell, P. (2013, June 3). Idea of rewilding Britain ignores economic impact [Web log]. In National Farmers Union. Retrieved from http://www.nfuonline.com/news/staff-blogs/idea-of…
The Connexion. (2011, June 1). We don’t want more bears. http://www.connexionfrance.com/news_articles.php?id=3205
Smith, Todd. (2015, April 22). The 10 most deadly apex predators on Earth [Web log]. In Sportsman channel. Retrieved http://www.thesportsmanchannel.com/2015/04/10-deadly-apex-predators-earth/
Soule, M. & Noss, R. (1998) Rewilding and biodiversity: complementary goals for continental conservation. In Wild earth (22). Retrieved from the Wildlands Project; http://academic.evergreen.edu/curricular/MES/rewi…
Willsher, K. (2014, June 12). Famous French bear found dead in Pyrenees. In Endangered Species. Retrieved from The Guardian; http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/jun/11/french-bear-balou-dead-pyrenees