The Science and the Vision of Rewilding



People have an odd tendency to ignore our visionaries when alive and celebrate them after they are safely gone. Aldo Leopold for instance pointed out over sixty years ago that wilderness in the United States was rapidly disappearing. His idea of a wild place was one that it would take ten days to walk across. That could be as little as fifty miles across in rough country. Leopold saw that if we don't protect wild country, we are impoverished morally, aesthetically and economically.

Public opinion now generally supports protecting species and conservation of natural areas, but increasing population and sprawl and road building are carving up our remaining natural areas into isolated patches. It is obvious that wild will only be permitted within designated boundaries. The question becomes, How much land should be set aside to preserve nature? The answer turns out to be a lot more than most people thought. For an ecosystem to work it has to be big enough to have intact food webs, it has to be big enough to withstand natural disturbances like floods, fires and windstorms. It has to be big enough to support wide ranging herbivores and top predators like cougar, wolf and bear. The consensus is emerging that at least one-half of the land needs to be under some form of protection and management if ecosystems are to be restored to something like wildlands.

We spoke with Reed Noss about the science and the vision of restoring functioning ecosystems.

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