2022: The year rewilding went mainstream
The Guardian’s biodiversity editor, Max Benato, writes that COP15’s long-awaited agreement is by no means the only good news for Nature to emerge from 2022. Away from Cop15, rewilding came to the fore in 2022, with projects across the globe, from the reintroduction of bison and cluster rewilding in the UK to big ambitions in Argentina, lessons learned in the Netherlands and the US, and the 10th Rewilding Europe project launched. As we enter 2023, many are gaining inspiration from the past, with an uptick in regenerative farming, the return of ancient crops such as buckwheat and Welsh oats, and the harnessing of ancient irrigation systems. Others are looking forward, taking innovate steps in conservation, including collecting fog, turning bus stops into homes for pollinators and utilising artificial intelligence.
Extinctions, shrinking habitat spur ‘rewilding’ in cities
In a bustling metro area of 4.3 million people, Yale University wildlife biologist Nyeema Harris ventures into isolated thickets to study Detroit’s most elusive residents—coyotes, foxes, raccoons and skunks among them. Harris and colleagues have placed trail cameras in woodsy sections of 25 city parks for the past five years. They’ve recorded thousands of images of animals that emerge mostly at night to roam and forage, revealing a wild side many locals might not know exists. Reports that up to a million animal species are at risk of extinction has driven the rewilding movement. Rewilding generally means reviving natural systems in degraded locations—sometimes with a helping hand. That might mean removing dams, building tunnels to reconnect migration pathways severed by roads, or reintroducing predators such as wolves to help balance ecosystems. But after initial assists, there’s little human involvement. The idea might seem best suited to remote areas where nature is freer to heal without interference. But rewilding also happens in some of the world’s biggest urban centers, as people find mutually beneficial ways to coexist with nature.
Urban rewilding can’t return landscapes to pre-settlement times and doesn’t try, said Marie Law Adams, a Northeastern University associate professor of architecture. Instead, the aim is to encourage natural processes that serve people and wildlife by increasing tree cover to ease summer heat, storing carbon and hosting more animals. Or installing surface channels called bio-swales that filter rainwater runoff from parking lots instead of letting it contaminate creeks. Detroit’s sprawling metro area illustrates how human actions can boost rewilding, intentionally or not. Hundreds of thousands of houses and other structures were abandoned as the struggling city’s population fell more than 60% since the 1950s. Many were razed, leaving vacant tracts that plants and animals have occupied. Nonprofit groups have planted trees, community gardens and pollinator-friendly shrubs. Conservation projects reintroduced ospreys and peregrine falcons. Bald eagles found their way back as bans on DDT and other pesticides helped expand their range nationwide. Anti-pollution laws and government-funded cleanups made nearby rivers more hospitable to sturgeon, whitefish, beavers and native plants, such as wild celery.
“Detroit is a stellar example of urban rewilding, ” said John Hartig, a lake scientist at the nearby University of Windsor and former head of the Detroit River International Wildlife Refuge. “It’s been more organic than strategic. We created the conditions, things got better environmentally, and the native species came back.”
The foregoing is excerpted from © 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
How social considerations improve the equity and effectiveness of ecosystem restoration
The United Nations Biodiversity Conference in Montreal closed this past December with an unprecedented agreement to place 30% of global degraded landscapes under protection by 2030, especially emphasizing the need to respect indigenous and local communities rights in the process. Conservation efforts to date have fallen short and have been driven by insights from ecologists, especially by mapping studies outlining potential of restoration across scales. While these studies have been important, they often overlook the human element. In a recent study, published in BioScience, colleagues and I show how areas identified by other scholars to be of highest restoration priority around the world are inhabited by more than a billion people who disproportionately belong to groups with below-average health outcomes, education levels, and income. These people are in many cases directly dependent on their landscape for food security, and often have strong cultural ties to their lands. Current restoration often takes place in the context of strong power imbalances and objectives may vary depending on whom you ask. Land-use policies driven by actors in the Global North but implemented in the Global South have a burdensome track-record of increasing marginalization of local communities. Beyond ethical reasoning, restoration projects will be more likely to sustain, and thereby to realize ecological objectives, if they align with local communities’ desires for their landscapes. People are simply more likely to maintain a participative restoration project that benefits them.