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.
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.
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.
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!