Page by Oliver Scofield
As the concept of rewilding has gathered momentum in our world, the focus has been on recreating natural ecosystems in lands that recently were agricultural or developed. While these areas are indeed critical for establishing habitat and maintaining biodiversity, it is also important to realize that rewilding processes can take place in lands already designated and protected as wilderness. Despite many years of government protection many of these areas are not untouched by human impacts, especially when it comes to the animals we allow to live there.
This video describes the effects of rewilding the Yellowstone ecosystem. In a classic example of a trophic cascade, we are shown the complexity of the vast ecological interactions in environments. The reintroduction of wolves to the park had effects beyond what managers were expecting and revealed how even relatively wild and pristine areas can benefit from rewilding measures. The second link brings you to the Park Service’s analysis of the history of wolves in Yellowstone, why introduction was required and desired and some of the effects they are seeing in both the ecological and political realms.
In a way, because of the values we place on our parks and wilderness areas and the ideals of untouched, primeval land we associate with them, it is even more vital that we keep (or fix) these places. Without some degree of nature that is mostly beyond human influence, what would we have to model our other rewilding projects after? Some sort of baseline area is necessary, and where better to have that than in places already protected? The reintroduction of wolves to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem reestablished a balance that had been missing, and restored an ecosystem that had occurred for thousands of years before. Now that this system exists once again, we can understand how to recreate these areas in places that have little to nothing to start with: the developed and agricultural lands that make up the majority of our country.
And regardless of the ecological and rewilding implications, the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone allows visitors to witness ancient processes that are awe-inspiring and beautiful to behold. The one time in my life that I have seen wolves was in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone Park. There were five or six of them trying to steal a bison carcass from a grizzly bear. This experience will always stay with me and due to the rewilding process will be available to millions of other visitors for many years into the future.
Photo Credit: Jim Coda