Rewilding 101: Should We or Shouldn’t We Rewild Landscapes?

Urbanization, biodiversity loss, climate change – human impact has undeniably taken its toll on the planet.

We’ve lost hundreds of species. Can we rewild landscapes and bring back species that are no longer here?

Let’s cover the basics. What is rewilding?

Rewilding means bringing back qualities that have been lost, restoring an area of land to its natural state and possibly reintroducing species that had been driven out or exterminated.

What’s the difference between conservation and rewilding?

Conservation focuses on protecting and restoring current habitats and wildlife populations. It’s almost like hitting “pause” for these species. Whereas rewilding emphasizes the restoration of habitat and wildlife species that have been driven out.

One of the most famous rewilding projects is the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park in 1990. The wolves changed the course of some rivers, stabilized deer and elk populations, helped make healthier riverbanks that suffered from less erosion and so much more.

What about Canada?


In Canada, we are lucky to still have many areas untouched and considered “wild”. However, these areas used to have species that thrived for many years, but may not exist in the region at all anymore.

grizzly bear

For example, Grizzly Bears used to live across all the Prairies. It is said that the first Grizzly Bear to ever be seen by a European explorer was in eastern Saskatchewan. Now there isn’t a Grizzly Bear in sight in that neck of the woods.

Decision makers in Banff reintroduced Plains Bison to the Rocky Mountains last summer, which have been long gone for about a century.

Can rewilding work for these species? Should we even consider it?

There are many questions that need to be asked when rewilding landscapes with species that have been long gone and many will be unanswered, as we simply do not know everything. Should we rewild species in Canada that haven been gone for a while? We’d have to be prepared to have species live in all kinds of landscapes, even it means it’s a bit closer to home. Because as you know, there is no such thing as a border or personal property line for wildlife species.

It’s certainly a conundrum and you could really make a case for either side.

wetland

The pros of rewilding in Canada:

  • Helping to reduce a mass extinction by giving nature a chance to reestablish its natural state of abundance and biodiversity. In truth, we would never be able to reverse the sixth mass extinction, but rewilding could make a small dent in reducing it.
  • Maintaining a piece of the Canadian identity. Each wildlife species has an intrinsic value in Canada, knowing they still exist in Canada will help maintain a piece of Canada as we know it.
  • Giving Canadians an opportunity to observe species in their natural setting.
  • Fighting climate change. For example, every tree planted in a rewilding project absorbs as much as 22 kilograms of carbon dioxide per year.
  • Inspiring a generation to love nature and increase well-being.
  • Helping prevent natural disasters like flooding, soil erosion and more.

coyote

The cons of rewilding in Canada:

  • Impacting property. Some property owners around the rewilding sites may suffer from rewilding. For example, introducing predatory species likes wolves’ increases the risk of losing livestock for farmers.
  • Planning the land requirements for rewilding projects. It would take a lot of planning to decide the areas to rewild from countryside to city.
  • Gambling that it’d work. It is not always clear if extirpated species will do well if placed back in a previous environment.

What can you do to rewild your property?

The easiest and simplest way to do your part and help rewild is to plant native trees, flowers, shrubs and more in your backyard. Help create habitats for bats, butterflies, birds, and so much more. Take part in restoring wetlands by removing invasive plants.

What does the Canadian Wildlife Federation think of rewilding?

Well, it depends. It’s complicated and there are no right or wrong answers. We are more interested in restoring habitats and keeping the species we currently have at healthy population levels than reintroducing species that are already gone for centuries.

It is proven to be much more effective (in terms of cost, effort and success) to prevent wildlife or habitat loss than to restore or rewild it.

We want to hear from you!

What do you think about rewilding? How far back in time should rewilding go? Do we bring back species from last century or millennial? Let us know in the comments below!

Nature’s Clean Up Crew

No need to wait once a week for these scavengers to make their round.

Some species don’t get enough credit for the work they do to help keep the environment neat and tidy. Species that feast on dead and decaying plant and animal matter are called scavengers, a.k.a. nature’s clean up crew.

Scavengers play a crucial role in the environment; they help break down organic matter and recycle it back into the ecosystem as nutrients. They also keep potentially dangerous diseases and bacteria at bay by consuming the animal carcasses along the roadside, your favourite outdoor trail, and many other locations we might not even be aware of.

Take a look below at some of Canada’s most popular scavengers and some that just may surprise you.

Turkey Vultures

turkey vulture

Turkey Vultures are scavengers in the truest form and feed almost exclusively on carrion (dead animals). Their keen sense of smell helps them detect gases from carrion along the roadside and beneath closed tree canopies. Their stomachs have strong acids that help kill off dangerous toxins and microorganisms, which helps minimize the spread of diseases and bacteria associated with carrion.

Butterflies

butterly

Butterflies are scavengers too! Several species of butterflies have been found huddled on mud, urine and dung, and on the corpses of dead animals and fish as they lick for vital salt and minerals.

Red Fox

red fox

Red Foxes have a stomach of steel and can eat almost anything from voles, mice, squirrels and rabbits to reptiles, wild fruits and garbage. But they will also readily eat carrion any chance they get.

Pine Martens

pine marten

Pine Martens have a cute appearance with a little round face and pointy nose. They are also very effective predators with sharp, curved and semi-retractable claws that help them climb trees. Just like many species, Pine Martens are also opportunistic predators that won’t pass up on free leftovers.

Coyotes

coyote

You can count on Coyotes for scavenging on the leftovers from wolf kills. Coyotes are opportunists and will eat just about anything from small prey animals, deer, wild fruit to dead animals.

Common Raven

raven

This bird has adapted to living in many different habitats across the country and with that comes being able to adapt on what food is available. Ravens are mostly opportunistic omnivores and are known to prey on sick and dying animals and scavenge their carcasses.

Wolverine

wolverine

Wolverines are more of a scavenger than a hunter and usually depends on other animals, like wolves, to make the kill for them. But when push comes to shove, Wolverines will hunt their own prey.

North American Lobster

lobster

North American Lobsters do their part to keep the sea floor clean. These bottom-dwellers feed on crabs, shellfish, starfish, marine worms, sea urchins, slugs and snails – either alive or dead! They certainly do their part to help recycle the nutrients within their habitat.

 Black Bear

black bear

Black Bears take advantage of whatever grub is available. They need to forage up to 20 hours a day to increase their body weight for winter and will eat both plants and animals, including carrion.

Snapping Turtles

snapping turtle

Snapping Turtles play an important role in the ecosystems as scavengers. These turtles helps keep our lakes and rivers clean by eating a heavy diet of carrion and recycling the nutrients back into the bodies of water.