Is rewilding a good idea?

Since BioLogos is increasingly turning it’s attention towards creation care I thought this might be an interesting place to discuss rewilding. It’s a term heard often across the pond where I live, less often in the states. It involves the restoration of habitats and biological processes to a state as they were before human intervention, to a state where humans can step back and let life find a way (I couldn’t resist). Examples would be the Oostvarderplassen in the Netherlands, Knepp in England, and the Danube Delta in Romania.

Ideally I would love to see Wolves roaming the wilderness of the British Isles once again. Britain has already successfully reintroduced the beaver, and plans to reintroduce the Lynx have been submitted. In Ireland, a politician recently brought up the topic of reintroducing wolves, though the topic was quickly shot down;

I personally think that Ireland, a country already struggling with the reintroduction of eagles, is far too early in the game to be seriously considering the reintroduction of wolves. Especially when around the same time, a Belgian wolf, the first in the country for over 100 years mysteriously disappeared:

So I should ask? In this day and age, would rewilding be a good idea? Or do countries such as Britain and Ireland need time for views to change?

It sounds like a good idea, but like all ideas involving nature this could come with unintended consequences. Still, European wildlife is so diminished that small steps sound like a good idea, but I’d agree that predators like wolves should not be rushed, especially if most of the population has no idea how to live alongside predators of that size.

My home state of Maine reintroduced wild turkeys in the 70s, more than 100 years after they had been gone from the state. You see them all over the place now. They’re kind of a nuisance, but there are two hunting seasons for them so that probably helps.

It’s funny how quickly things can change though. In some sense, bringing back an animal population is putting them back where they originally thrived and so it seems like they “should be” there. But once they’re gone, the rest of nature fills in the gaps, so in some ways bringing them back (especially after many decades) seems like starting all over again.

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There is a need to be practical. Living around leopards is dangerous. But diversity of species is desirable. Unfortunately the nature that rushes in to fill the tiny opportunities we leave at the margins of the territory we claim for ourselves gets filled by a very few creatures who not only tolerate our presence but thrive when we suppress their competition. So, in the U.S. at least, we see rats, mice, squirrels, raccoons, opossums, skunks, coyotes, rabbits, various deer and a decreasing number of birds (due both to habitat loss for breeding and to predation by our domesticated cats).

Wolves, badgers,bears, weasels, foxes, bison, elk, moose, mountain lions, bobcats,and lynx are less frequently seen unless you travel far from human habitation. Ultimately we must refrain from living everywhere if there is to be anywhere at all for the mega fauna and those that tolerate us less well.

I wonder if there is agreement that creation care should include making room for a wide variety of other creatures to live in a natural state. If so does our species have it in us to make the sacrifice of not living in the remote places that are desirable to many of us?

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Rewilding is an interesting topic. Especially when it means reintroduction of potentially dangerous large animals. I would be interested to hear opinions about such rewilding from a theological viewpoint.

I live in an area where wolves returned after being away for >70 years. Wolves were hunted to local extinction after a sick and starving female wolf learned that kids are easy prey. At that time there were not much wild prey in this area, so the wolves had to hunt sheep, cows and pets to survive. Now the situation is different, there is plenty of deer and wolves avoid humans. Yet, local people remember the old stories and adapting to life with wolves has been challenging.

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Here’s an interesting article, claiming that calls for the reintroduction of large predators essentially give the rewilding movement a bad name, and that associating the rewilding movement with such beasts is a strawman:

What doesn’t help however, is that prominent rewilding advocate George Monbiot seems to be in the wolf camp, in his book Feral. His book Feral unfortunately takes swipes at the Biblical Worldview, veering at one point towards soft (and I assume unintentional) antisemitism, blaming the Old Testament for our negative view of nature, ignoring that this is not a historical Jewish view, but largely a Christian NT one.

Other than that, Feral has a lot to commend, though I feel as though he is also wrong to describe Britain as zoophobic, quite the contrary, Britain is probably one of the most nature loving countries on the planet. Also check out Wilding by Isabella Tree, to see an example of rewilding at Knepp. She is less bibliophobic (see what I did there?), even quoting the Bible at some points.

I agree that we shouldn’t approach it as all or nothing. While I’m all for finding room for as many larger animals as possible, for the predators at least, you must first have a viable prey population. So baby steps should always be the first steps. But my own preference is not to stop with those but to solve the problems as we go to include room for more and more shy and large, potentially dangerous animals to also share the planet.

Thanks for sharing – the article sounds like things are progressing with a clear-headed vision and wisdom, so I hope the best for them.

“The idea has been suggested that rewilding is another form of Highland Clearances, getting people off the land so we can bring back a wilderness. Rewilding isn’t that at all: humans are a vital part of the landscape and enabling rewilding.”

I think this quote is important as some see “environmentalism” of any kind as prioritizing animals/nature over people. This sounds like a more holistic approach.

I’m so fortunate to have spent part of my childhood in Scotland because it’s such a beautiful country. I already think of it as having a wildness of its own, even in the ditches and overgrown and overlooked portions of more developed land. We had so many “forts” in the underbrush of just a small area because there was so much growth to provide cover.

Oftentimes the environment has changed to where reintroduction is not viable or desirable as Laura pointed out. And some areas have enough trouble with coyotes and wolf/coyote hybrids finding tasty snacks in people’s back yards.