Wilderness restoration is a promising approach to conserving biodiversity by creating or restoring natural and wild ecosystems, preferably at large scale, by removing or reducing the human influence on them and allowing natural processes to function. This approach can have multiple benefits, including promoting ecological resilience and resistance, enhancing ecosystem services, and fostering cultural values. Some examples of wilderness restoration are Yellowstone National Park and Honeywood Forest. Humans have a key role to play in wilderness restoration by supporting and participating in projects, reducing their carbon footprint, and promoting environmental education and advocacy. Wilderness restoration can also be done in urban areas as a form of green infrastructure or urban ecology.
Wilderness Restoration: A New Approach to Biodiversity Conservation
Conserving biodiversity has become an increasingly pressing need in the face of anthropogenic activities, such as urbanization, deforestation, pollution, overfishing, and climate change, which threaten the survival and proliferation of countless animal and plant species. Traditional conservation methods, such as protecting intact habitats, creating national parks, and enforcing wildlife laws, have their limitations in the context of a rapidly changing and interconnected world, characterized by fragmented landscapes, invasive species, and novel threats. A novel and promising approach to biodiversity conservation is wilderness restoration, which seeks to create or restore natural and wild ecosystems, preferably at large scale, by removing or reducing the human influence on them and allowing natural processes to function, from the soil to the sky. This article will explain the rationale, benefits, challenges, and examples of wilderness restoration, and how it relates to humans and other species.
What is wilderness restoration?
Wilderness restoration is a form of ecological restoration that focuses on the creation or reestablishment of self-regulating and resilient ecosystems, particularly in areas where human activities have severely impacted the natural processes and species interactions. Wilderness restoration aims to remove or minimize the human influence on the landscape and let the system recover and adapt to the local conditions and dynamics of water, nutrients, fire, and biotic factors. Wilderness restoration often includes removing invasive species, planting or seeding native species, reconnecting fragmented habitats, restoring hydrology, reducing artificial noise and light, and reintroducing extirpated species, among other measures. Wilderness restoration can be done in various types of ecosystems, such as forests, grasslands, wetlands, marine coasts, and even urban areas.
What are the benefits of wilderness restoration?
Wilderness restoration can have multiple benefits for biodiversity, ecosystem services, culture, recreation, and human well-being. Some of the benefits are:
1. Restoring or maintaining natural habitats and species diversity
2. Promoting ecological resilience and resistance to disturbances and climate change
3. Enhancing ecosystem services, such as clean water, carbon sequestration, and pollination
4. Fostering cultural values, such as spiritual connection to nature and traditional ecological knowledge
5. Providing opportunities for outdoor recreation and tourism, and for scientific research and monitoring
What are the challenges of wilderness restoration?
Wilderness restoration faces several challenges, such as:
1. High costs and long-term commitments, especially for large-scale restoration projects
2. Limited availability and accessibility of suitable land or sea areas for restoration, and conflicts with other land uses or stakeholders
3. Uncertainties and risks associated with ecological interactions, such as competition, predation, and disease transmission
4. Technical difficulties and ecological trade-offs in choosing and implementing restoration methods and species
5. Lack of public awareness and support, and possible opposition from some groups who perceive wilderness restoration as a threat to their interests or beliefs
What are some examples of wilderness restoration?
Wilderness restoration has been done in various regions and ecosystems, and at different scales and intensities. Some examples are:
1. Yellowstone National Park, USA: After the removal of wolves in the early 20th century, the elk population increased and overgrazed the vegetation, leading to soil erosion and loss of biodiversity. In the 1990s, wolves were reintroduced, and their predation on elk allowed the shrubs and trees to recover, providing habitat for other species such as beavers and songbirds.
2. Oostvaardersplassen, Netherlands: A former polder was flooded and transformed into a wetland with artificial islands and peninsulas, and stocked with large herbivores and carnivores from other countries. The ecosystem gradually developed its own dynamics, with the herbivores regulating the vegetation and attracting raptors and scavengers, and the carnivores preying on the herbivores and maintaining a mosaic of habitats.
3. Honeywood Forest, UK: A degraded and fragmented semi-natural forest was restored by removing rhododendron, an invasive species, and planting native trees and shrubs. The restored forest improved the biodiversity and recreational values of the area, and the local community became actively involved in the management and monitoring of the forest.
4. Makira Natural Park, Madagascar: A deforested and degraded area was restored by planting millions of native trees and shrubs, and by involving local communities in the restoration process and in protecting the park from illegal activities. The restored forest improved the water quality, soil fertility, and biodiversity of the area, and provided livelihood opportunities for the communities.
What is the role of humans in wilderness restoration?
Humans play a key role in wilderness restoration, both as threats and as solutions. Humans have caused most of the degradation and fragmentation of ecosystems through their activities such as logging, mining, agriculture, hunting, and fishing. Therefore, humans can also reverse the damages by supporting and participating in wilderness restoration projects, by reducing their carbon footprint, by respecting wildlife laws and ethical codes, and by promoting environmental education and advocacy. Humans can also benefit from wilderness restoration by enhancing their ecological awareness, by enjoying the beauty and diversity of nature, by learning from the resilience and adaptability of ecosystems, and by securing their own survival and happiness in a healthy and sustainable environment.
Q: Is wilderness restoration a form of rewilding?
A: Yes, wilderness restoration can be seen as a form of rewilding, which emphasizes the restoration of a self-regulating and biodiverse ecosystem through the reintroduction of keystone species, or their ecological equivalents, that play critical roles in the food web and the ecosystem functions. However, wilderness restoration can also use other methods that do not involve reintroductions, such as invasive species removal, hydrological restoration, and passive management.
Q: Can wilderness restoration be done in urban areas?
A: Yes, wilderness restoration can be done in urban areas as a form of green infrastructure or urban ecology, which aims to integrate biodiversity and ecosystem services into the urban environment, and to enhance the human-nature interaction. Examples of urban wilderness restoration are the High Line in New York City, a former elevated railway transformed into a linear park with native plants and bird habitats, and the Million Trees NYC initiative, which aims to plant one million trees in the city by 2017.
Q: Does wilderness restoration require human intervention forever?
A: Not necessarily. Wilderness restoration aims to create or restore self-regulating and resilient ecosystems that do not require constant human intervention or management, if the key ecological processes and species interactions are functional and intact. However, some restoration projects may need occasional monitoring or intervention to ensure their success and to adapt to changing conditions or new challenges. Moreover, humans can be engaged in ongoing stewardship and monitoring of wilderness areas, as a form of citizen science and environmental education.