Considering that writing about a movement as deeply radical and expansive in scope as rewilding is quite the endeavor, I believe I should offer an introduction about who I am, and what my intentions are for this blog.
My name is Ashley Corri, and I am a research coordinator for Heyday Books, an independent, non-profit publishing-house in Berkeley, California. Its publications and events are grounded in a celebration of the history, culture, and environment of California. In February 2014, Founder Malcolm Margolin held a conference to discuss the ecosystems of the Late Pleistocene era, the anthropogenic extinctions of nearly 50 North American megafauna, and the possibilities of rewilding California. In attendance were experts in the environmental field, ranging from professors, analysts and evolutionary biologists to wildlife writers, and museum and organization directors. An astounding array of philosophies, current efforts, challenges, and possibilities moving forward were discussed.
Shortly after this, I was brought on board to stir the pot, so to speak. I am a recent UC Berkeley graduate, with a degree in Conservation and Resource Studies, and a minor in Forestry. Through this interdisciplinary program, I dabbled in ecology, sustainable land management, anthropogenic global change and environmental justice. I would like to summon these perspectives into my research and writing going forward with this project. I am by no means an expert; I am still very much garnering prowess in the environmental field. But, I am fueled by passion and curiousity for this work, and am tapped into a network of individuals and organizations who play powerful roles in the conservation movement. It is my intention for this blog to be an educational platform where I compile what I garner from conversations with those in the field, visits to project sites, and various other rewilding resources.
Across this blog, you will find a curated collection of such resources as:
-Organizations invested in rewilding and restoration of environments.
-Current rewilding projects.
-Policy and litigation.
-Articles, books, documentaries, and other videos.
-Upcoming public events.
That being said, I see rewilding efforts as integral to the contemporary wave of conservation. But, what is rewilding, exactly? It is a movement that builds on old models of biodiversity and wilderness conservation models, yet also seeks to incite a change in our environmental consciousness. If you are reading this, I imagine I need not talk your ears/eyes off about the extent of environmental degradation and consequent crises we are now in the midst of. It is no longer enough to come up with disjointed short-term solutions to environmental threats. At this point, it behooves us as a human collective to take conservation efforts deeper, further, and more seriously and than we have done in the past. Perhaps what is most revolutionary, and sometimes seemingly quixotic, is the scale, in both time and space, that rewilding seeks to tackle. It calls for us to think larger scale, and to look to eras of the past for guidance. The movement also invites us to shift from conservation efforts that are reactive- in opposition to such industrial activities as deforestation, oil drilling, and unsustainable agriculture- to those that are proactive in nature. As Reed Noss and Michael Soule’ set forth in their groundbreaking work, Rewilding and Biodiversity: Complementary Goals for Continental Conservation, the foundational proponents of rewilding are by shorthand referred to as cores, corridors, and carnivores. Cores are large, protected wilderness areas bereft of too much human interference. Currently, these are national parks, wilderness preserves, and the like. The necessary expansion comes in the form of corridors, that connect these regions and allow dispersal and seasonal migration. In the last handful of years, the Department of Fish and Game and the Department of Transportation have drafted a strategy for better wildlands connectivity in California, known as the California Essential Habitat Connectivity Project. It comprises ecological assessments, conservation goals, GIS maps, and an abundance of other information.
A long-standing challenge has been determining what species to prioritize conservation efforts on. Within the rewilding model, the focus is on keystone species, often carnivores, whose presence at the top of the food chain regulates populations of those species below it. This intricate web of cause and effect is known as a trophic cascade, and a case that epitomizes it involves wolves in Yellowstone. In the 1920’s, wolves were wiped out of Yellowstone National Park, and the results were unexpected and detrimental to the ecosystem. Aspen, willow, and cottonwood trees fell into decline, due to the boom in the herbivorous elk population. Competition with elk further drove down populations of beaver and bison. Over the years, ample documentation and research made it apparent that the missing link was the wolf. In 1995, several dozen gray wolves were released back into Yosemite, and the hypothesis was upheld. Their presence brought the elk population back down to carrying capacity, restored beaver colonies, and allowed vegetation to once again flourish. This effort has set precedence for further projects involving top-down regulation.
This excerpt from Caroline Fraser’s Rewilding the World: Dispatches from the Conservation Revolution does a good job encapsulating the monumental yet incredibly necessary parameters of rewilding as a movement, a call-to-action in this eleventh hour.
“With the publication of Continental Conservation and a raft of other books and papers explicating connectivity and restoration, the conservation biology community in North America was reaching a consensus, offering a comprehensive show of support for rewilding as a solution, a remedy, a plan. But no one had ever restored a continent before. Where should cores, corridors, and restoration be planned? How should these large-scale networks of protected areas be designed? Who would carry out these projects; how would they be managed? By whom and for how long? Where would the money come from? Rewilding represented an almost infinite number of consequential decisions and tasks. It was a prospect of staggering, overwhelming dimensions. In terms of time, money, scientific expertise, and technological prowess, rewilding made NASA’s job of sending a man to the moon look finite and manageable. Every decision made would have real-world consequences affecting land use, water, and wildlife management on a scale never before contemplated. Every decision would also affect an unpredictable and volatile constintuency: human communities.” (p. 31)
Thank you for joining me on this journey! Stay tuned for what else is to come.