What is Rewilding? 13 Things (2021) You Must Know

Climate change is upon us, and if we want to make a difference for the ecosystems that surround us, it’s time that we allow them to become more self-willed. This is where rewilding comes in.

Rewilding is a form of conservation that is intended to reverse the environmental decline by allowing nature to become more self-sustaining.

Keep reading to learn more about how this works and how you can put rewilding into practice!

1. What is rewilding?

Rewilding is a form of environmental conservation and ecological restoration that has significant potential to increase biodiversity, create self-sustainable environments, and mitigate climate change.

This form of ecological restoration places an emphasis on humans not only stepping back in an area but also leaving it to nature.

Rather than actively participating in natural resource management, rewilding efforts are more passive.

They aim to create self-regulatory and self-sustaining stable ecosystems.

2. What are the different types of rewilding?

There are three different types of rewilding:

bulletPleistocene rewilding

This type of rewilding involves reintroducing species or descendants of megafauna species from the Pleistocene era, also called the Ice Age.

Approximately 12,000 years ago, at the end of the Ice Age, there was massive extinction of megafauna.

Some say that this extinction event left an unbalanced ecosystem and that they must be reintroduced.

However, Pleistocene rewilding has a greater potential for uncertain impacts than translocation rewilding because it involves potentially introducing a completely foreign species to an ecosystem.

bulletPassive rewilding

This type of rewilding is a different approach that aims to reduce human interventions in an ecosystem as well as give human-cultivated land back to nature.

The ultimate goal of passive rewilding is to let nature develop and flourish on its own.

To achieve this type of rewilding, passive management of ecological succession and restoring the natural ecosystem process by reducing human influences on landscapes is necessary.

bulletTranslocation rewilding

The final and most active approach to rewilding is translocation rewilding.

This involves the reintroduction of species that are of the most recent origin.

Translocation rewilding tries to restore missing or dysfunctional processes and ecosystem functions by reintroducing current descendants of lost species.

This can be done in two ways:

  1. Reinforcements: This involves the release of a species into an existing population to enhance viability and survival.
  2. Reintroductions: This is where the goal is to re-establish a population in an area after local extinction to restore ecosystem processes. This can also be called trophic rewilding.

3. Where is rewilding necessary or appropriate?

Rewilding is necessary and appropriate wherever an ecosystem is out of balance.

If natural lands aren’t being protected, connectivity has been compromised, or biodiversity has been threatened or diminished, then rewilding can be implemented.

In the last three decades, this method has been applied to national, regional, state, and local areas in South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, so nearly every single continent!

4. How is rewilding achieved?

Here are some of the basic steps to rewilding:

bulletIdentify core wild areas (or nearly wild or potentially wild areas) that must be restored.

bulletDetermine what habitats and species are present in this area and assess the general health of the ecosystem.

Are there pollutants or poisons present?

Have any species been extirpated?

Are there any habitable wildlife corridors here that connect to other core areas?

bulletUnderstand the history, ownership, and politics of the land.

bulletLearn whether there are human developments on portions of the land that complicate the situation.

Sometimes, relatively simple actions like enacting legal protection; stopping inappropriate hunting, fishing, or harvesting; removing barriers such as fences, roads, or dams; and allowing the areas to rewild on their own through benign neglect are sufficient.

bulletIf you determine that these restrictions will not suffice, then there are more extreme measures you may want to take.

For example, 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.

It’s important to note that rewilding can be more or less difficult depending on the circumstances.

In general, the larger the scale, the more complex the land ownership, and the greater the degree of human development, the more difficult the rewilding.

5. What is the history of rewilding?

Rewilding was first developed as a method to preserve functional ecosystems and reduce biodiversity loss.

One of the first times this theory was brought up was in 1967 with Robert H. MacArthur and Edward O Wilson’s The Theory of Island Biogeography.

They established the importance of considering the size and isolation of wildlife conservation areas.

Part of their theory was that protected areas remained vulnerable to extinction if small and isolated.

William D. Newmark’s study of extinctions in national parks in North America added weight to this existent theory in 1987.

Just before that, in 1985, the Society for Conservation Biology began to focus on reducing habitat loss and fragmentation.

The actual practice of rewilding then grew rapidly in the first two decades of the 21st century.

For example, a June 2021 report for the launch of the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration listed rewilding as one of several restoration methods that should be used for ecosystem restoration.

6. What elements are required?

There are three key ecological processes necessary for successful rewilding.

These include trophic complexity, dispersal, and stochastic disturbances.

7. Why is rewilding important?

Rewilding is important because conservation biology data indicates that the structure, diversity, and resilience of the ecosystem maintains “top-down” ecologic interactions, which are initiated by top predators.

Additionally, wide-ranging predators usually require large cores of protected wild landscape habitat for foraging, seasonal movements, and other needs.

That said, connectivity between the cores is also required as remaining core reserves in most regions are typically not large enough.

As humans, we have a responsibility to other species to restore these communities.

We have the power to make them self-regulating and self-sustaining.

Scientists argue that this is also in our best interest and people because we need nature for our own mental and physical well-being.

8. Who is (or should be) involved in rewilding?

Everyone should be involved in rewilding because everyone has a vested interest in it.

The original work of rewilding fell on the shoulders of ecologically-minded conservationists.

This included Dave Foreman, John Davis, Michael Soule, and Reed Noss.

There are also several organizations that contribute to rewilding efforts like The Rewilding Institute, The Wildlands Network, The Yellowstone to Yukon Group, The Sky Island Alliance, and The Grand Canyon Wildlands Council.

Right now, the efforts of rewilding primarily fall on the shoulders of private individuals and organizations.

No North American government (U.S., Canada, or Mexico) has contributed significantly to efforts or funding.

As such, government personnel is often unaware of rewilding needs and possibilities.

Still, if you’re a private landowner, you may want to consider looking into rewilding and what you can do on your land.

9. What are the three Cs?

Rewilding is an active approach to conservation.

It works to restore equilibrium using a range of approaches grouped together under the Three C’s: cores, corridors, and carnivores.

Here’s a quick overview of each of these components.

bulletCores: This is a key part of a habitat that one or more species relies on.

Specific needs in a habitat determine how large a species’ core habitat can be.

For example, timber and running water for beavers are a core part of a habitat that species rely on.

When you focus on cores during rewilding, you support access to resources and reduce human activities that threaten those resources.

How you do this typically involves surveying an area to define what human activities have damaged an ecosystem.

These projects can be difficult because halting human activity often requires lobbying for tougher regulations and court battles over land rights and use.

bulletCorridors: A “corridor” creates connectivity between restored core wilderness areas that were once part of the same landscape but have been separated by human activity.

Doing this allows different populations to migrate, interact, and breed, which increases biodiversity, prevents genetic bottlenecks and creates more self-sustaining environments.

bulletCarnivores: This “C” refers to the reintroduction of a keystone species.

Rewilding emphasizes animals high up in the food chain (think apex predators and large herbivores).

These larger animals regulate ecosystems due to their interactions with other species and their activities that impact the ecosystem.

These impacts are known as the trophic cascade.

10. What are the benefits of rewilding?

While the number one goal of rewilding is natural restoration, that’s not where the benefits stop.

Here are some other key benefits of rewilding.

bulletBiodiversity

Rewilding is nature’s opportunity to reestablish its natural state of rich abundance and biodiversity.

Instead of humans impacting populations, large predators now play the stabilizer role.

Additionally, natural corridors increase genetic diversity.

bulletSelf-sustaining systems

Rewilding focuses on the return of natural processes without human interferences.

The goal is to create a system that is self-sustaining and allows all components to thrive.

bulletFighting climate change

Rewilding allows us to restore native vegetation, which helps to regenerate the soil.

This sequesters large amounts of carbon and plays a pivotal role in a country’s decarbonization plan that has a positive impact on climate change.

bulletLess extinction

When species of plants and animals are reintroduced, they are protected from extinction and have a greater chance of survival.

This is particularly important for insects and microorganisms that can be negatively affected by agricultural chemicals and land management.

11. What are the do’s and don’ts?

If you’re interested in rewilding an area, be sure to read this list of do’s and don’ts first.

Do’s

bulletDo reconnect with nature

While rewilding is about reconnecting with nature, it doesn’t mean you should exclude people from that process.

Rewilding projects should actually facilitate positive relationships with nature for more people.

bulletDo think about the future

While rewilding intends to restore the environment, it isn’t all about rewinding the clock.

It’s also about looking toward the future and thinking about the challenges that nature will face.

Don’ts

bulletDon’t always start with top predators

Above we discussed how rewilding often starts with top predators, and while this is important, there are likely a lot of other missing parts of an ecosystem as well.

To ensure it’s fully restored, make sure that you add plants, prey animals, and fungi back to the ecosystem in addition to top predators.

bulletDon’t alienate rural communities

Rewilding can make some rural communities anxious because it jeopardizes their land, livestock, and way of life.

Be sure to consider how rewilding will impact people at every stage and remember that these projects should ultimately be driven by local people.

Engage them in organizing and setting the agenda for how their land is managed.

12. Where are there rewilding schemes in the USA?

If you’re interested in seeing the rewilding movement in action, here are some of the areas being transformed in the USA:

bulletYellowstone (Wyoming, Montana, Idaho)

bulletAmerican Prairie Reserve (Montana)

bulletHeartland Ranch Nature Preserve (Colorado)

bulletPinnacles National Park (California)

bulletInnoko National Wildlife Reserve (Alaska)

bulletFlorida Keys (Florida)

bulletBadlands National Park (South Dakota)

bulletOlympic National Park (Washington)

bulletNew York (New York State)

13. What is human rewilding?

While most of this article focuses on rewilding our environment, there is such a thing as applying rewilding principles to human beings.

Human rewilding focuses on “examining our cultural paradigms, seeing how they affect our physical, mental, and emotional health, and reclaiming our birthright as human beings.”

It means reverting to your natural or untamed state of being.

By rewilding yourself, you undo unhealthy modern conditioning and recreate cultures and lifestyles beyond domestication as we define it today.

Some of these paradigm-shifting tools that can help with human rewilding include:

bulletPrimal fitness: Learn to listen to your body’s “wisdom” and get into shape.

bulletRewilding your mind: Unleash your “inner nature” that includes a mindset characterized by curiosity instead of fear, awareness instead of distraction, and passion instead of apathy.

bulletWildness “survival:” Each of us has “wilderness living skills” that can help us learn to live comfortably in the wild and that can bring us into an entirely new way of viewing life.

bulletRewilding your health: Reset your body’s natural ability to know what is good for you to eat.

bulletAncestral skillsRevert back to how we used to do things (knap stone into tools, tan hides into leather, etc.) and develop a valuable relationship with nature!

bulletNature entrainment – Expand your senses and allow your preconceptions to fall as you immerse yourself in nature and discover a new sense of adventure and companionship in the wild.

bulletMartial arts – Explore how martial arts practice can help you gain confidence, shift your perception of conflict, and put yourself on a path to your most natural and effective state of being

Final thoughts

Rewilding eliminates the need for active management of the relationship.

Whether you’re a landowner now, or you’re just interested in repairing the Earth, this is a valuable method to learn!

It helps both people and the planet flourish together.

Additional Resources

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Disclaimer: we are not lawyers, accountants or financial advisors and the information in this article is for informational purposes only. This article is based on our own research and experience and we do our best to keep it accurate and up-to-date, but it may contain errors. Please be sure to consult a legal or financial professional before making any investment decisions.

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