Call of the Wild

Several days ago, Andy Revkin wrote a Dot Earth post about what I would characterize as an ecotopia for conservationists:

After three years of meetings and study, a broad array of conservation groups, government scientists and other experts on North American wildlife policy have produced a road map for restoring some large free-roaming populations of bison in the North American plains.

As Revkin goes on to detail, the plan would have to overcome significant political and cultural hurdles. Tellingly, at the end of his post, Revkin asks a question that hints at his take on the idea:

Can we, or should we, get comfortable with what amounts to an engineered “Eden”?

Ah, what I would give to be able to discuss this more often than the latest skirmish over climate science. Because there is much here that signifies how environmentalists still view nature and humans as separate entities.

One gruff commenter, obviously perturbed at the rewilding concept, nonetheless channels my thoughts when he asks:

what is the reason for this lamentable sentimentalism when it comes to certain animals and physical landscapes? things change.

Another commenter, noting all the positive reaction on the thread to the notion of reintroduced bison, is similarly sarcastic:

It’s fascinating how many of the comments mention the glorious sight of buffalo on the plains…
Are ya just hoping for something better to look at when you drive through?

Did you consider that actual midwesterners would have to be consulted before you went through with your theme-park plan for the Great Plains?

Are *you* going to subsidize the industrial-strength fencing that will keep the behemoths off the highway?

How much to indulge this toxic sentimentality about a mythical before-time when all was bright and clean and morally correct?

As I was reading though the post and comments, I was reminded of a review I wrote four years ago, of a book called Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America, by Paul Martin. I summarized the book’s concept as thus:

Martin argues for returning the ancient beasts””sloths, saber-toothed tigers, mastodons, and other extinct megafauna””to their old stomping grounds in North America. Okay, what he really wants is to restore their evolutionary lineage by rewilding parts of the American desert and prairie with their latter-day relatives, such as the elephant and the cheetah, whose current prospects in Africa are otherwise considered dim because of poaching and habitat loss.

Now that would be something to see as we drive through.

2 Responses to “Call of the Wild”

  1. John Fleck says:

    I’m working on a story for the newspaper about levees and flood risk along the middle Rio Grande through the Albuquerque metro area. The levees contain the river itself and a beautiful strip of cottonwood forest. We urban dwellers have become incredibly attached to the forest as a core natural preserve. (I am one of those who loves it.) Two problems: first, the trees are encroaching on the levees, threatening their structural integrity and therefore posing a flood risk. But the suggestion that some trees be cut down draws strong political opposition. Second, the forest is largely a byproduct of human activity. Before we dammed and channelized the Rio Grande, it wandered a broad flood plain and flooded frequently, leaving behind only patches of trees, not the miles-long woods we’ve come to define today as “nature”.

  2. Keith Kloor says:

    That’s a story I look forward to reading. Talk about complexity.

    You know, when I lived in forested Boulder, Colorado last year, I often marveled at seeing pictures of the scrubby, treeless plain from a hundred years ago.

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