Ecologists today are embarking on grand new experiments to create new wilderness spaces, new creatures and even bring back the wild of an ancient past. Rewilding is happening all over the world — even Canada. J.B. MacKinnon author of The Once and Future World, tells about the ecological richness we've lost, and how we can encourage its return.
Q. What is rewilding to you?
J.B. Mackinnon: To me, rewilding means bringing back wild qualities where they have been lost. That means it can happen at any scale, from your backyard to the wilderness. It can be cultural, too — weaving nature back into our daily lives.
Q. With so many wild spaces here already, why do this is Canada?
J.B.Mackinnon: Worldwide, we’re living in what I call a “10 per cent world,” or a planet that has lost 90 per cent of its former ecological richness. Even in Canada, most places are missing major species that were present in the past, and we’ve definitely lost a lot of abundance. Read old explorer’s journals and ship’s logs and they describe a different country, one with grizzly bears in Saskatchewan, passenger pigeons over Toronto, mountain lions in New Brunswick, and just amazing numbers of birds and fish almost everywhere.
Q. What are the potential benefits (to Canada) in rewilding?
J.B. Mackinnon: The usual way to answer this question is to talk about the many “ecosystem services” that a healthy natural world provides, like fresh air, clean water, valuable fisheries, erosion control, and even the relief from stress we get from a good walk in the forest. That’s all true, but I think it misses the bigger picture. What do we get from rewilding? A more magical, more exciting, more fascinating world to live in — and one that can teach us a more sustainable relationship with nature.
Q. Describe your favourite rewilding project in Canada.
J.B. MacKinnon: Let me sneak in two. Back in 2009, federal scientists said there was no chance that we could bring grizzlies back to the Prairies. But the bears disagreed, and pretty soon they started showing up on the grasslands in southwest Alberta. The situation is still fragile, but so far, it looks like grizzlies and Alberta farmers and ranchers can coexist — it’s a great Canadian story. Then there’s the Homegrown National Park project, which is working to make a green corridor through Toronto, full of birds and butterflies. I think we’ve just started to think about where urban rewilding could take us, and it’s really important, because that’s where most Canadians live.
Q. Is there anything people can do on a personal level to take part in rewilding?
J.B. Mackinnon: Plant native plants and trees. Go online and learn how to create habitat for birds, bugs, butterflies, bats, or even toads in your backyard. Join one of the many community groups that are restoring fish habitat or wetlands or pulling up invasive plants. Support conservation groups, because we won’t need to rewild if we don’t dewild in the first place. Finally, rewild yourself — make the time to get out into nature. That connection is still a part of our Canadian heritage, and it can make us an example to the rest of the world.
The Once and Future World is an eye-opening account of nature as it was, as it is — and as it could be. A deep exploration into the idea of rewilding, it's now available in bookstores. Find out where to buy it.