Photo: Dennis van de Water/Shutterstock

4 Rewilding Projects That Are Restoring Balance to Our World

by Morgane Croissant Apr 20, 2014

Human populations have been destroying natural habitats for thousands of years without realizing that our lives depend on wild places. Here are four rewilding projects that aim to restore some of our planet’s ecosystems and may offer us a chance at redemption.

1. Rewilding Europe

What is it?
Rewilding Europe is a vast project whose mission is to create more space for wilderness, wildlife, and natural processes on abandoned lands in Europe.

Where is it?
Currently, five areas have been selected for this project: Western Iberia (western Spain and northeastern Portugal), Eastern Carpathians (Slovakia and Poland), Danube Delta (Romania), Southern Carpathians (Romania), and Velebit (Croatia). Rewilding Europe will select another five regions to achieve its goal of rewilding one million hectares by 2020. It would be fantastic to have more marine or coastal areas added; we all know the ocean could use a push in the right direction.

What are the specifics?
Rewilding Europe wants to create complete and naturally functioning indigenous ecosystems by leaving large natural areas to manage themselves, but also by reintroducing keystone species (predators and herbivores) to restore balance.

Before you get all worked up, let me tell you that this rewilding project’s mission also includes a human presence in its guideline principles, for social and economic sustainability. Rewilding Europe allows people living in the selected areas to remain on their land and benefit from its regeneration, but it also wants to attract visitors to experience wilderness in Europe, just like visitors can experience wilderness in places like Yellowstone National Park. I’m all for it.

2. Wild Nephin

What is it?
Wild Nephin is a pioneer rewilding project in Western Europe. Ireland’s National Parks and Wildlife Service and Coillte (a forestry company) have dedicated 11,000 hectares of land to wilderness since March 2013.

Where is it?
The land selected is mostly peat lands, forests, and mountains in the Nephin Beg Range in County Mayo, in the northwest of Ireland, on the Atlantic coast. This area of Ireland is very sparsely populated — ideal for a wilderness project.

What are the specifics?
The land will undergo a 15-year restoration project, during which invasive plants and infrastructure will be removed, native plants planted, and certain species reintroduced; however, there’s no plan to reintroduce any large fauna to the area (no wolves in Ireland yet — not since the 18th century).

After the “restoration phase,” Wild Nephin will be left to thrive without any human intervention. Once again, the economic benefits of the rewilding project shouldn’t be glossed over — Wild Nephin plans to attract environmentally conscious tourists, like you and me.

3. Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative

What is it?
Y2Y is not a rewilding project per se, but its mission is very similar: to protect and connect the wild habitats and ecosystems of a vast area, so there will be no need for rewilding in 30 years. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

Where is it?
This project encompasses a very large zone (502,000 square miles) across five American states, two Canadian provinces, and two Canadian territories, stretching from Wyoming to the Yukon Territory.

What are the specifics?
The area within Yellowstone National Park (rewilded via the reintroduction of the wolf) is thought to be the last remaining intact mountain ecosystem. The Y2Y Conservation Initiative aims to preserve the wildlife, the natural processes, and the species native to the area, while protecting the people who live and depend on this land.

It starts at the top of the local food chain — just like George Monbiot, rewilding expert, would’ve prescribed — with the grizzly bear as an indicator of biodiversity and a keystone to success. Thanks to the trickle-down effect of this predator’s behaviours, protecting the bears first and foremost can ultimately stimulate a healthy, balanced ecosystem. The bears have been trying to do just that for 5 million years, so let’s take care of them so they can work their wonders.

4. The Elwha River Restoration

What is it?
The Elwha River Restoration project started in September 2011 with the demolition of two large dams. The river now flows freely for the first time in 100 years. In September 2014, the Glines Canyon Dam will be entirely removed.

Where is it?
Along the Elwha River on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, in the United States.

What are the specifics?
The removal of the two damn dams (let’s face it, they were screwing things up), which had been adversely affecting the ecosystem for 100 years, is now allowing fish to come back from the sea to spawn in the Elwha’s freshwater pools, providing a food source for predators (bears, eagles, etc.) and restoring a long-gone balance. Not only has the Elwha River Restoration allowed the mass restoration of an ecosystem, it’s also replenished the coastal area by freeing sediments trapped in the Lake Mills and Lake Aldwell reservoirs.

Last but not least, the demolition of the dams allowed the people of the Lower Elwha Klallam tribe access to ancient sites that’d been submerged for a century. Pretty impressive what can happen when humans step aside and let nature take its course.

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