Yellowstone National Park is one of the most spectacular ecosystems on Earth. At over 3437.5(2) miles, it is one of the largest, intact temperate zone ecosystems on Earth (NPS Gov, 2021), and is home to over half of the Worlds active geysers. It is an intricate, delicate, ever evolving system that has managed to fully restore its historical community of vertebrate wildlife species which utilise the parks diverse landscape.
However, human interaction through the extermination of wolves disrupted this perfect, intricate cycle.
In 1920 Wolves were eliminated from Yellowstone National Park
For over 70 years, the effects rippled through the ecosystem, from Elk increasing to the decline of Aspen stands.
In April of 1995, fourteen wolves from Alberta, Canada were released from the translocation pens in Yellowstone National Park, stepping back into their rightful place in the park
(Douglas W. Smith, et al 2003).
This rewilding process was applied to stabilise the prey fluctuations and their detrimental effects on the parks vegetations.
The release caused a cascade over the trophic levels creating an opportunity for observers and researchers to watch how keystone species influence the local system and a large scale Rewilding initiative was deployed.
Though some dispute the research and the causal relationships between the elk decline, the reintroduction had far reaching impacts on every scale.
Grizzly bears, a threatened species, have increased in number acting as opportunistic predators, seeking out kills completed by wolves and stealing them for their own.
The increase in carcasses has provided a stable income of food for ravens and eagles (Douglas W. Smith, et al 2003) and mesocarnivores are able to thrive following the reduction in competition.
Today, Aspen is thriving. Elk numbers are managed and with reduced grazing, vegetation flourished. The willow flora increased in stand height and developed higher levels of biomass, from reduced browsing . A change in prey behaviour caused a biological change within the willows development and with it, created habitats suitable for the declining beaver.
This is the outcome of trophic rewilding.
Today, there are hundreds of organisations and sites across the World that are utilising a rewilding framework to repair and restore the damage done to nature by humans.
We are trying, as a community, to heal, and ‘patch up’ scars left in the landscape from our misguided interaction with different groups taking a different approach each time.
Some use trophic rewilding, such as that successfully observed in Yellowstone. Others, are passive or ecological rewilders who, in its simplest form, protect the space and step back, allowing for nature to re-correct itself.
Other communities use Pleistocene rewilding, a more adventurous approach, that invokes taxonomic substitutions, using replacement, or ‘proxy’ species to serve the functions that the extinct megafauna would have (Pettorelli, N., S, Durant., T du Toit, J., 2019) . It is most widely known through the Pleistocene Park in the Republic of Yakutia which attempts to restore the mammoth steppe ecosystem which dominated the Arctic landscape in the late Pleistocene, approximately 0.012million years ago.
Finally, there is another application that is suitable here, which is Open Wilding; The Climate Corners framework for effective ecosystem management in the face of a changing climate (Rosen and Lynn, 2020). Unlike other forms of rewilding, Open Wilding uses a range of applications based on the status of the land, as opposed to a ‘one size fits all approach’ and welcomes human interaction as a vital component to the success of land and ecosystem preservation, development and support. Our framework can be read here
One thing is certain, that a lot of positive outcomes are happening because applications, driven by natures own design are being utilised across the World.
The Pine Marten Recovery Project in Ceredigion, under the Vincent Wildlife Trust has successfully begun their recovery, Knepp Estate in Sussex has increased numbers of Peregrine Falcons and Purple Emperor Butterflies and the Lynx is set to make a comeback in Northern England.
But there is more to rewilding than wildlife management.
A key component of restoration is within public perception and the removal of a social duality that separates us from the wild. Extensive studies show that there are various associations with the language itself, where the word 'wild' invokes particular feelings, and this changes across different communities. Because of this, we need to develop a flexible, evolving approach to public engagement and language management.
Bridging this gap is Rewilding Britain, who have successfully launched a new network of rewilding projects, groups and specialists to create a system of knowledge and best practice. This thriving database will allow the industry to refine itself in their/ our application of rewilding, including the language used and social approach.
Today, 'World Rewilding Day' marks a new beginning and celebrates the coming together of communities dedicated to better environmental management. It mobilises the conservation conversation and motivates action for rewilding to be adopted at a national, governmental level, and by individuals in their own gardens.
We must become more wild in ourselves and readopt and realign our actions with that of nature. We are a keystone species within the ecosystem and not an external component or influence. In order to fully restore nature, and ensure a thriving natural system, we also have to rewild ourselves.
Happy World Rewilding Day.
Douglas W. Smith, Rolf O. Peterson, Douglas B. Houston, Yellowstone after Wolves, BioScience, Volume 53, Issue 4, April 2003, Pages 330–340, https://doi.org/10.1641/0006-3568(2003)053[0330:YAW]2.0.CO;2
NPS Gov. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/greater-yellowstone-ecosystem.htm> [Accessed 20 March 2021].
Pettorelli, N., Durant, S. and Du Toit, J., 2019. Rewilding. Cambridge, British Ecological Society.
Rosen, C. and Lynn, T., 2020. Open Wildling Scientific Framework. 1. [online] Available at: <https://6612f6a7-5fbb-4ba1-8c0d-bdc6885eca52.filesusr.com/ugd/cce5a5_c930f786bcc24f6eb6d0ede113e9fa58.pdf> [Accessed 20 March 2021].