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On “Healing the with Howls: Rewilding the Souther Rockies. ” Posted for Stacia T

by on December 5, 2011

This article is a discussion on the problem of unbalanced ecosystems due to
extinction of wild populations. The article opens with a discussion of the extinct
wolf population in the Southern Rocky Mountains, which leaves a large imbalance
in the local ecosystems. The author emphasized the importance of the role of
large predators in ecosystems, calling them a keynote species.  A keystone species
is defined in the article as, “their influence n ecosystem function is
disproportionately important relative to their low abundance” ().  Michael Soule
and Dave Foreman have argued that the current widely used approach to
conservation, the “putting out brishfires” approach is not working and we are in
the middle of a mass extinction event. Therefore, they advocate for a new
approach called Rewilding. Rewilding is defined as, “the scientific argument for
restoring big wilderness based on the regulatory roles of large predators” (). In
other words, the role of rewilding is to restore self-regulating land communities.
They believe that the reintroduction of large predators into suffering areas that the
rest of the balance will restore itself. The author says, “once large predators are
restored, many if not most of the other keystone and “habitat creating” species
(eg. Beaver, prairie dogs) ‘keystone systems’ and natural regimes of disturbance
and other processes will recover on their own”().
Based upon this idea, the Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project was founded.
The importance of this project is the realization that Soule and Foreman came to,
“our current system of preserves does not adequately protect the region’s major
ecosystem types” ().  The three-pronged approach to this project is first about
“Preserving remaining Roadless areas as core protected areas “. This is to prevent
the fragmentation of species as roads create barriers between habitats. The
second prong of this project is “Ensuring appropriate use and adequate protection
between core areas to facilitate landscape permeability and connectivity” (). This is
important because it refers to the necessity to work with lawmakers to better
protect the land. The last prong of the plan is, “Reintroducing wolves and other
missing carnivores to the eco-region”(). This plan, as explained earlier is to help
restore a natural balance in the Southern Rocky Mountain Region.

I believe that this approach is an interesting idea, however I don’t understand
how the reintroduction of one major preator will balance out the rest of the
ecosystem. I don’t think it’s reasonable to expect other populations to redistribute
in any particular way because of the intense interconnectedness of each individual
ecosystem. I also think that ecosystem is too broad of a scope, there are different
levels of ecosystems, so my question is, what level of the ecosystem are you trying
to repair? I think that since nature is always changing, it is foolish of people to
think they can predict how an entire ecosystem of animals will react. It may just be
that I’ve watched Jurassic Park too many times, but I think that reintroducing an
animal into a territory where it is now extinct will have unpredictable
consequences on many different levels.

My questions to the class are:

Do you agree with the rewilding approach as opposed to other forms of
conservation?

What do you think the scope of ecosystem should be for this approach?

Do you think it’s reasonable to assume that other populations will return to
previous levels with the reintroduction of wolves into the ecosystem?

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7 Comments
  1. morganspyker permalink

    It is hard for me to take a strong stance either way since other than Jurassic Park, I am new to this subject. As an outsider with the knowledge just from this article, I’m not really comfortable with the rewilding approach. I’d imagine it would be a long, drawn out processes with many people needed to observe and devote tons and tons of man hours. Not that good things don’t come from hard work and persistence, but all of that energy could be used in other ways. All of the money spent to do that could be spent towards revitalizing the dying out resources and/or educating children and adults how to replenish their current surroundings before they too start going into extinction. It is just hard for me to agree with this idea when the amount of money (it always seems like it is about the money) could be spent towards education/research which I assume has a higher return of investment in the long run rather than the playing with the possibility of an animal changing an entire ecosystem.

  2. Megan Powell permalink

    I’ve actually heard about this approach to conserving/restoring ecosystems, although I’ve never heard it called “rewilding.” My first thought about this approach is that they creators of it recognized one major cause of ecosystem change (in this case the extinction of major predators) and address it. But, is that the only factor affecting the ecosystem? My intuition tells me that there are typically many factors that may cause a change in an environment so addressing just one of them may not fix everything, like the authors predict. Also, I wonder how it could be decided for each different ecosystem that this approach is used how many large predators to bring in and how to do it? Couldn’t there be unexpected consequences if there is a mistake made on this level?
    I think if a “rewilding” effort is to be made in an ecosystem it should be supplemented with other efforts of different approaches as well…
    These discussions make me wonder whether if there ever really is any success stories in the conservation/restoration of ecosystems.

  3. Fred Reisen permalink

    I tend to agree with Stacia and the above comments regarding introducing one species to revive the entire ecosystem. Time after time the articles we have read have shown that ecosystems and the relationships within them are far more complex than we can understand at first or even second glance. I have come to understand it that one element cannot fix a problem but maybe repairing one relationship can. Perhaps this is what the ‘rewilding’ is attempting to do, introduce Wolves to begin repairing the relationships within the ecosystem in order to restore it back to a level of relative health.

  4. I also found myself agreeing with Stacia’s argument in her blog post. I felt like it was a relatively bold statement to assume that this “rewilding” the wolves will help the ecosystem. I found myself more concerned with how this was going to effect other species and in turn cause more issues that need resolving. Historically, this process or method has been known to fail in situations like “rewilding” certain bugs or frogs in order to minimize other issues. As a result, often landscapes and ecosystems that are introduced to new populations of species can cause an overpopulation of that new species. I also thought it was funny that Jurassic Park came up in this discussion because it certainly came across my mind when I was reading this piece.

  5. Benjamin N. permalink

    Re-wilding is a dangerous concept to me. There’s a difference between an animal that was born and raised in a particular environment versus an animal that was born and raised in a different place and transported to a particular environment. It could completely change the balance of an ecosystem in a completely different way than the original “de-wilding” did. I think the best solution is prevention. We need to keep in mind that populations wax and wane, and that ecosystems are extremely complex. The presence of wolves means more than just danger to humans. It also means keeping other animal populations in check through a natural predator/prey cycle. We need to consider all the variables before making hasty decisions like removing wildlife from certain areas.

  6. punam123 permalink

    Do you think it’s reasonable to assume that other populations will return to
    previous levels with the reintroduction of wolves into the ecosystem?
    i have always believed in conservation and preservation method but not re-wilding. I feel the author approach more pimm article about resilience. But her argument is very wrong. Introducing a new species in the ecosystem would not bring stability and the return of the previous species. Every species has their own environment that they feel comfortable ad adapt with, and rewilding might affects its population. So, i am really confused how can the other population will return to previous level.

  7. Though the article seems to make sense when reading it for face value, the issue, for me, concerns philosophy. Who are people to say that populations needs to be altered in one way or another? We describe an imbalance in the ecosystem due to the lack of wolves. However, if we reintroduce wolves, it may or may not cause problems. Populations trends and resilience is unpredictable, as we have learned. It may be the case that not reintroducing the wolves will yield to some other ecological benefit in the future.

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