Human Rewilding: The Next Phase of Ecological Restoration
By, Laura Ofstad, Master’s Candidate in Literature at the University of Nevada in Reno
Ecological restoration is founded on the idea that ecosystems do not exist in isolation, but in a constant process of exchange with everything around them. In the late 20th century, scientists realized not only were tracts of preserved land becoming degraded, but that action needed to be taken in order to bring them back to health. Many of the core debates of ecological restoration evolve from elements of human choice and control in shaping the environment. These components are present at a basic level, such as choosing which ecosystem to restore, what species or species relationships to focus on, and what baseline these restoration attempts are going to try to recreate. But despite acknowledging issues of human choice and control, most skepticism of ecological restoration fails to penetrate the issue of what to do with the human itself, who, by the logic ecological restoration is based on, is inseparable from the ecosystem. Not simply the human out living in the so-called wilderness, but all humans, living all places—the humans who, according to biologist Stuart K. Allison, have domesticated “more than half of the earth’s total land surface” and degraded “two-thirds of the earth’s ecosystems.”
Considering that the human is the most influential component of the earth’s ecosystems, I argue that the next phase of restoration should target not other species, but the human itself. Due to entrenched speciesism, this is an issue that has long been avoided, and the real target of restoration efforts. The human has engaged for too long in the destructive project of civilization, and it must now learn to rewild—only through this process will the human return to its place in the ecosystem, liberating itself and the species it cohabitates with. As a large omnivore, our species holds the potential to create major change in the health of its many environments.
In this presentation, I will first briefly explain the development of ecological restoration into the growth of the idea of rewilding, as expanded upon by Dave Foreman in Rewilding North America. Second, I will explain the concept of human rewilding, until now practiced and advocated mainly within fringe political groups of green anarchists and primitivists, and argue that it is a necessary but virtually undiscussed step for ecological restoration. Lastly, I will point to where other restoration ideologies, such as cultural or indigenous restoration and bioregionalism, share similar goals and critiques with the movement towards human rewilding, and how these disparate movements could benefit from being synthesize.
Laura Ofstad is a second-year Master’s candidate in Literature at the University of Nevada in Reno, specializing in Literature and Environment and Critical Animal Studies. She is a Teaching Assistant for the University and Assistant Editor for the journal ISLE: Interdisciplinary Studies in Literature and Environment.