Un-Domesticate

Taking care of the Earth and of other species on this planet is not a new trend.  In fact, I believe that conservation is embedded in our human nature, rather than a learned trait.  Although, it seems as though, periodically we have forgotten, or ignored our natural instincts in favor of more selfish pursuits.  As intelligent beings, we recognize that we must partner with the rest of nature, to foster and maintain some semblance of symbiosis to coexist on this planet.  We realize that our resources are finite and we must take steps to preserve them and simultaneously, our environment.  Many of us recycle, as well as choose the “green” option while shopping which are both valid and extremely worthy efforts.  However, these address very human issues, like consumerism. There are so many more aspects to environmentalism to consider, such as the well-being of the animals that live among us and those in surrounding areas.  Yet few of us know exactly how to tackle these hot button issues.  So what is it that we can do on a larger scale to really make a difference? Can humans learn to exist in the natural world again as well as coexist with animals and plants?

While the field may still be in its infancy, there is compelling scientific evidence that rewilding is the answer.  Rewilding is an aggressive approach that would involve increased day-to-day interaction with wildlife, and less human interference in nature; thus rehabilitating once dwindling ecosystems. This project is less focused on humans saving the environment and more on the radical notion of allowing nature to take back what was once wild.  Building upon earlier conservation efforts, Michael Soule and Reed Noss (1998) expanded upon the term, “rewilding,” which was originally coined in the early 1990s, to include the following features: “large, strictly protected core reserves, connectivity, and keystone species…[or] the three C’s: cores, corridors, and carnivores” (p. 22).  They published an article in “Wild Earth” in 1998 that explained that ecosystems are connected by trophic cascades, a “top-down” principle, where the keystone species’, namely large predators, presence affect the viability of that ecosystem.  The argument relies on the legitimacy of the belief that by disturbing the natural order and balance, everything else in an ecosystem would be thrown into chaos.  That is to say, a few species are essential to regulate the populations and productivity of other species.  This ultimately became the central founding principle for The Rewilding Institute, one of the leading resources for rewilding.

The process is best explained by rewilding activist, George Monbiot (Ha, 2011).  He talks about how, in the case of Yellowstone National Park, gray wolves had been extinct in the park for 70 years.  Once the wolves were reintroduced in 1996 and starting hunting elk, their behavior changed.  They stopped going to places in the park where they were more likely to get trapped, such as valleys.  As a result, the vegetation was able to grow back in those areas. More trees meant more wood for beavers to build dams with, so they started to return to these areas.  Otters and other creatures who depend on beaver dams for shelter and survival started to return as well.  A chain of events that affected every creature in the ecosystem was launched by reintroducing the natural predators to the once overbearing elk population.

Rewilding projects have already launched to restore national parks around the world and there are numerous proposals to initiate rewilding on abandoned farmland in Europe.  But is that enough?  Some supporters of rewilding have argued for an urban-centered migration, where humans move into or closer to cities so that the rural lands can be dedicated to the animals and nature can take over once again.  They believe that afterward, humans can slowly reintegrate into nature and live among the wilderness.  Others, propose a slightly less time-consuming, but no less dramatic tactic where we bring wildlife to live alongside the established homes of the farmers. 

Think of rewilding as un-domesticating, an undoing of some of man’s work; not to move backward in time, but rather to ensure a thriving future for generations to come. What is more domesticated than a bustling city? We’ve built our own forest of concrete and glass, but at the expense of the lives and habitats of countless other species.  There are people who support rewilding in cities and heavily populated environments.  And then, there are those who think that animals are better suited for conservation areas, away from the influence and noise of densely populated areas.

Here in San Francisco, we like to boast about how amazing our city is. We take pride in the fact that it is clean and organic. We like to shop locally while thinking globally.  I have a vision for more.  As one of the greenest cities in America, San Francisco is an example for the rest of the world to follow when it comes to environmental sustainability.  I think that San Francisco is a perfect candidate for an urban rewilding project. I see this city becoming a sanctuary for more than just humans, but animals as well. By redesigning our city to fit the needs of wild animals and bringing native species or their close relatives back onto the land, we could create a harmonious environment that benefits all living creatures within its limits. We have the attitude, all we need is the plan. 

Vancouver, is a city that is in the process of rewilding itself. There is no question that the people who inhabit it have dramatically changed the landscape.  It was a rainforest less than 130 years ago (Glover, 2014).   Recognizing their impact, residents are trying their best to bring nature back into their city through various public programs.   A three part plan has been devised that has been positively received by the public after an exhibit opened in 2014 chronicling the atrocities committed by humans against the natural life, once abundant in the area.  The steps are: 1. Designate special wild places in the city 2. Incorporate nature into everyday life 3. Create a system that is effective in leading and maintaining these rewilded areas (Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation, 2014).

Vancouver isn’t the only instance of urban rewilding taking place.  Author Tristan Donovan discusses how, due to climate change, among other factors, more and more animals are migrating into urban spaces on their own (Donovan, 2015).  As evident in his book, this is a real, pressing issue that must be addressed, for the safety and well-being of all those concerned.  Though, this shouldn’t be a source of despair or anxiety.  In fact, in a recent interview with National Geographic editor Christine Dell’Amore, Donovan exclaimed that, “We should appreciate it more-it’s fantastic [evidence that] our cities are not dead and lifeless” (2015).

However, this raises concerns for the safety of animals and humans alike.  If we allow animals to come into close quarters with humans, they may become dependent on our food and then wander further into other areas where they are at risk of getting hit by a car or hurting someone.  Exploring efforts by Rewilding Europe, all of their projects are focused on abandoned land with little to no human influence.  The organization looks at this land use as both a moral opportunity to rehabilitate dwindling animal populations and an economic opportunity, as it is their vision that the rewilded areas will eventually become tourist attractions.  There is no mention of possible urban-based efforts because their mission is about giving nature more space.  In a study about Australia’s urban landscapes, it was found that urbanization not only negatively affects animals living in the city’s habitat but on surrounding lands as well.  Through the research that was conducted, it was concluded and recommended that land be set aside, away from human influence (Ikin, K. et al., 2015).

The desire to take care of the Earth, plants, animals, and other humans is ingrained in our very existence.  As intelligent beings, we must partner with the rest of nature, to foster and maintain some semblance of symbiosis to coexist on this planet.  It has been realized that our resources are finite and we must take steps to preserve them.  While some see it as our duty to save species on the brink of extinction, others are worried that it is not our place or that we are “playing God.”  So many questions can and should be raised on this topic because as a concerned people we should become more informed by asking more questions. As a resident of Earth, you should be concerned about and take care of where you live.  Humans, even with all of our technological advances, are not above the natural order.  Yes, we have been able to utilize tools to make life easier for ourselves, but we still have our place.  Being a part of this means that we put into the system in addition to taking what we need from it.  As of right now, this is all we’ve got.  Using up all of our resources would surely mean devastating consequences for humankind.

So why rewilding?  With all of the many viable options in conservation, this particular effort has been shown to work effectively on a large scale.  There are many benefits to rewilding, the most important one being improved biodiversity.  Rewilding has been shown to bring back balance and regulate once declining ecosystems.  It is claimed in “Rewilding Abandoned Landscapes in Europe” that agricultural practices as we know them were wasteful and rewilding in these areas would undo the damage that has been caused (2012).  There are great arguments in favor of rewilding, as long as it is away from civilization, and that makes perfect sense.  Rewilding is heavily dependent on the reintroduction of keystone species, many of whom are apex predators.  That is enough to make anyone wary of it.  However, rewilding San Francisco is not only important for the environment but necessary for humans and animals to coexist now, as well as in the future.  Rewilding in rural areas and national parks are important endeavors and they should not be abandoned.  The Earth needs rehabilitation now, more than ever.  But we shouldn’t stop at these abandoned lands.  Bringing rewilding into urban environments restores a balance that was once lost.  As I’ve stated before, rewilding is an aggressive approach to solving an ecological problem that we’ve created.  But it is so much more than that, with adopting the three step proposal, utilized in Vancouver, we can create real changes that promote the well-being of all involved.  Rewilding San Francisco gets us back in touch with our roots, our own human nature.

Sources:

Dell’Amore, C. (2015). Feral cities: How animals are going urban like never before. National Geographic. Retrieved from http://news.nationalgeographic.com/2015/04/150421-urban-wildlife-animals-science-cities-coyotes/

Donovan, T. (2015). Feral cities: Adventures with animals in the urban jungle. Chicago: Chicago Review Press Incorporated.

Glover, J. (2014). Rewilding a city: The Vancouver example. [weblog post]. Retrieved from http://thiscitylife.tumblr.com/post/80581023186/rewilding-a-city-the-vancouver-example

Ha, T. (2013, June 11). For more wonder, rewild the world: George Monbiot at TEDGlobal 2013. [Web log post]. Retrieved from http://blog.ted.com/for-more-wonder-rewild-the-wo…

Ikin, K., Le Roux, D. S., Rayner, L., Villasenor, N. R., Eyels, K., Gibbons, P., . . . Lindenmayer, D. B. (2015). Key lessons for achieving biodiveristy-sensitive cities and towns. Ecological Management and Restoration, Vol. 16 Issue 3, p206-214. 9p. doi: 10.1111/emr.12180

Navarro, L. M., & Pereira H. M. (2012). Rewilding abandoned landscapes in Europe. Ecosystems, 15, 900-912. Retrieved from http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs10021-012-9558-7

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…

Vancouver Board of Parks and Recreation. (2015). Rewilding Vancouver: From sustaining to flourishing. Retrieved from http://vancouver.ca/files/cov/enviromental-education-stewardship-action-plan.pdf

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