Where the Wild Things Were… and Could be Again

As humanity has tightened its grip on Earth, we have been party to the loss of many species. While many of us are aware of the cautionary tales of the dodo and the Tasmanian tiger, we are blind to the processes that led to their extinction. In seeking to fulfill our desires (for space, for goods, for control over the natural environment) we too often fail to consider the needs of the system that sustains us: the dodo, for example, met its end because of invasive species that we distributed to their island home, combined with the destruction of their habitat by sailing ships seeking provisions. Similarly, the Tasmanian tiger succumbed to human invasion of its territory early in the 20th century. However, instead of being wiped out by competition, the Tasmanian tiger was intentionally hunted to protect herds of livestock.

While the human understanding of ecology, biodiversity, and the importance of habitat has expanded significantly since these extinction events, we have not yet quelled the behaviors which cause these woes. Still, as a species, we are pushing outward the paved boundaries of our urban centers, attempting to thicken the line dividing the ‘human’ and ‘natural’ worlds. However, this strategy is ultimately flawed: Homo sapiens is a product of, and component to the natural world. No matter how deluded and distant our culture becomes from natural systems, we, as organisms, are intimately connected to them.

So rather than maintaining a trajectory focused on dividing that which cannot be separated (humans and nature), let us instead focus on interweaving nature and culture more thoroughly. One process by which we can accomplish this goal is known as rewilding. Though it is a relatively young idea (and thus variously defined), the general idea behind the concept is fairly consistent: through shifts in both design and behavior, strengthen the connections between wild, natural spaces and humans. Sometimes this is accomplished through the promotion of biodiversity through the re-introduction of species into an area (particularly the introduction of apex predators such asbears, wolves, and lynxes into rural areas where they had been extirpated to protect grazing interests). However rewilding is actually more pertinent to cities, since they’ve traditionally been built in such as way as to exclude nature. By redesigning our cities (in particular the vacant spaces within them) to accommodate more natural greenspace, we can create wildlife corridors. These corridors serve as a valuable habitat for species that otherwise might have difficulty finding shelter within the city.

Make no mistake: this shift is not only for the benefit of nature. Humans also stand to gain from increasing their proximity to natural spaces. There are numerous studies that support better health outcomes (mental, physical, emotional) for humans who have easy access to areas that are ecologically diverse. Similarly, studies have also indicated that depriving humans of access to green space can have negative outcomes in terms of their health. By intentionally incorporating more green space into our cities using modern engineering techniques (green roofs, green walls, infiltration planters, etc.) we can reap benefits in terms of a reduced burden on the healthcare system. By opening our cities (and our hearts and minds) to nature, we can attempt to preserve locally threatened species such as the Loggerhead Shrike and the Least Weasel. These two species, in particular, are powerful allies against vermin such as mice, moles, rabbits, and voles, but in order to recruit them to our cause, we much afford them spaces within our cities. Only after supplying enough hawthorn and locust perches and nesting sites will the shrike feel comfortable enough to hunt within our towns.

Loggerhead Shrike

When we deploy boulder and shrub assemblages within our public parks, the Least Weasel will return to control the rabbits that ravage our community gardens.

Least Weasel

Through an enlightened sense of aesthetic (where a thicket can be appreciated as a more valuable addition to a community than a tightly landscaped and controlled formal garden) we can help our cities to better serve us and our allies in the wild.

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