I’m listening to Twilight of the Mammoths: Ice Age Extinctions and the Rewilding of America
right now, and it has me thinking about my disappointment from a recent visit to rewilding.org. Something ain’t quite right.
I first became familiar with the rewilding concept from Scientific American, some time ago, and blogged on Mammoth Cloning. The idea was compelling. But my takeaway was that the backers behind the article had a vision for a “Pleistocene Park.” What a great idea!
Essentially, they assert that North America is missing significant members of its mammalian megafauna. Giant ground sloths with prehensile tongues as large as elephants, mammoths and mastodons roaming in matriarchal herds, short-faced bears who stood on all fours with shoulders taller than I, native camels and horses, lions and cheetahs. These and other creatures disappeared from the landscape suddenly, just some 13,000 years ago. Right about the time that the first reliable evidence of humans appears. If you accept that overkill played a key part in their demise, the assertion that today’s North America may likely have had them still, if it were not for us humans.
That’s not a reason to rue our very existence. The Pleistocene Park idea is inspirational. The world still hosts rough analogy species, many endangered on their native continents. Patriating them to a new preserve in North America could roughly reconstruct some of the lost world. It’s far out, and would certainly be challenging to win. But the success of African game reserves show that the challenge would not be containment or management. It would more be getting the public behind the idea.
My disillusionment started when I found out that an EarthFirst! founder was involved. That made me skeptical that I might find an overly radical agenda. Their blog featured a couple stories about Greenpeace, using the same brand of sensational and righteously indignant style that lead me away from Greanpeace. Yet the site also features interesting, easy-to-understand principles of conservation science, such as diagrams for good-better-best geometry for wildlife habitat preserves (some courtesy of Michael Soulé, a UC Santa Cruz professor from who lectured for a class I once took). But the real disappointment was that the site no longer lead me to see anything achievable.
Instead of a Pleistocene Park (bold and visionary, albeit really hard to achieve), they now seem to advocate the rewilding of North America more in more general terms. That is, I don’t see an inspiring vision for species conservation coupled with a contextual justification based on analogous predecessors. I see a nebulous vision that feels a bit idyllic and nostalgic. What am I supposed to get behind? This blog post is really just to try to get one of them to comment on why they seem to have moved away from their most concrete idea.