Posted by: Brad Nixon | March 23, 2018

Rewilding; On Vacation, the Tool User Looks Around for Some Animals

Some weeks ago, in this post, I introduced a subject that is now an ongoing topic here. I’m interested in the question of just what it is we’re expecting from the experience of going somewhere to be “in nature.”

Why do we need to go anywhere at all for the experience of nature? We are animals, interacting with our environment. The fact that our surroundings are often highly contrived ones we and other homo sapiens have constructed doesn’t change the fact that we’re reacting to sight, sound, smell, feel and taste, and using our reactions to survive in a demanding world. That’s a fair definition of a living, natural animal. The fact that we’re driving cars, talking on phones or typing on keyboards in order to ensure our survival instead of hunting for food doesn’t change the essential fact that we need air, water, food, shelter etc. etc. in order to survive. We are surviving. We’re excellent at delivering packages, trading stocks or flipping hamburgers to earn money to buy food and pay the rent.

But, we consider ourselves to be different from other animals. Distinctions typically begin with the capacity and functions of our brain plus its size relative to body mass. From there, they progress to capabilities our brains have that other animals (possibly) lack: a structure for the duration of long periods of time, language, inductive and deductive reasoning, rapid adaptation to large-scale change and so forth.

The rest of our bodies are more or less uniquely evolved, with opposable thumbs and other refinements (although we come off worse than most animals in the disciplines of running, jumping, reproducing, swimming, flying, burrowing and, well, an incredibly long list of things).

Still, we want to leave our manufactured, paved and signposted environment behind and go somewhere that fences, roads and signs are in limited supply, offering, ideally, only paths that have excellent views and only signs that explain what wildlife, flowers or geomorphic features of the landscape we’re seeing: a national park, for example. Once there, if we take the right paved path at the appropriate time of day and follow the directions on the signs assiduously, we might finally SEE NATURE: mountain, waterfall, canyon, geyser, rock arch, western jackrabbit, snow leopard, ruby-throated hummingbird or Galapagos turtle, whatever’s native to that particular area. Maybe a mule deer in New Mexico.

DeNaZin Brad Nixon 4356 (640x494)

A problem arises. One of our defining characteristics ─ a thing that qualifies us as homo sapiens ─ is our ability to use tools. A few other creatures use tools occasionally in some ingenious ways, but they wouldn’t win any tool-making competition with even seven year-old humans. We’re tops in tools. The problem stems from a large set of the tools we’ve made and where we employ them. I won’t attempt an exhaustive list, but they include bulldozers; steam shovels; oil drilling rigs; chain saws; barbed wire; guns; dynamite; fishing nets; a wide variety of pesticides and herbicides; land mines and nuclear, coal-fired or natural gas-fired power plants.

The problem is that enthusiastic use of these tools has tended to reduce the available square footage of what we consider to be “nature.” It’s also resulted in the reduction or elimination of thousands of species of animals, including occasional humans. Take the California Grizzly Bear, depicted on the official flag of my state. Want to come out and see one? Oh, sorry. They’re extinct. Collateral damage from tool usage. Couldn’t be helped. We have some other nice animals, though. We’ll see if we can get you a look at a desert tortoise or a California Condor, although the last time we checked they were getting scarce, too.

Isn’t that a downer? Here we want to take a well-earned break from fulfilling our manifest destiny as tool-using animals, and now we stand darned little chance of seeing wild animals, even if we drive all the way to the national park.

Through sheer luck, we haven’t entirely eliminated all the animals. Some of them just snuck away when the tool users were reloading. Like the gray wolf. They were eliminated via (you guessed it) tool use from the contiguous United States. Some of them managed to sneak off to Canada and Alaska. In a concept called rewilding, native species ─ often large predators like the wolf ─ are reintroduced into good ol’ nature, making it more natural than ever. As it turns out, having wolves around balances out a population explosion of deer and elk, and doing that reduces pressure on tree and vegetation cover, which they’re eating too fast, and having more trees helps control some rampant erosion and stream silting. Perfect! That will be more “natural,” too. We’ll see wolves in nature! Here’s a native wolf pack I photographed in Denali National Park, Alaska.

Denali NP Wolf Pack Brad Nixon 021_1A (640x463)

Not everyone agrees. Wolves get some bad press. The whole Little Red Riding Hood thing and all.

What’s “natural?” How badly do we want to see whatever we think of as “nature?” Are we satisfied with pulling off at the overlooks and taking pictures? What if there are wolves there? Mountain lions? Grizzly bears? Willing to take that risk? I’ve hiked where there are Grizzly bears: Glacier National Park. I accidentally walked within maybe 40 yards of a mother with a cub. That, I can tell you, is a sobering moment. I don’t necessarily recommend it, but if you’re out for memorable experiences, there’s one for you. I don’t want to have the Grizzlies rounded up and moved into a fenced area of Glacier for my convenience. I went there hoping to see a bear, after all. I did, and slowly backed away from Big Mom hoping not to be seen BY a bear. “It comes with the territory” is a phrase that comes to mind. Here’s a Grizzly in Denali, photographed from the safety of a National Park Service bus.

Denali NP grizzly Brad Nixon 018_7

What do you think about rewilding? Are you ready to hike with the rest of the animals? Put the tourists in buses and let the animals roam? Let Alaska and Canada keep ’em? And where, exactly, is “nature,” anyway? Please leave a comment.

For a worthwhile brief article about rewilding, please see this article in the New York Times. The Striving Environmentalist wrote about rewilding in Great Britain at this link.

© Brad Nixon 2018

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Responses

  1. Great post Brad! And thank you so much for the mention. I’m actually going to an event about rewilding in NE England this afternoon, I’ll let you know if it turns up anything of interest.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I adore Nature, always have. My problem is with humans – we just don’t seem to ‘fit in’. We may stop and admire it, may try to save little patches of it here and there, but in the long run, we tend to always try to dominate Nature rather than live with it.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Lurking behind your post are some interesting truths. Many have become so detached from nature that they now consume “nature” as they would an ice cream cone. In order to have an experience of nature, they look for a place where it can be obtained: the park or preserve as ice cream parlor. And, finally, they don’t want plain vanilla. They want the sprinkles, the chopped nuts, and the spectacular cherry on top of the whipped cream: the sight of the grizzly, for example. Serve it up, and they’re happy.

    Where rewilding can work, I’m all for it. However: reintroducing humans to nature may be as important as reintroducing the wolf or the grizzly. As long as people view nature as spectacle, entertainment, or scheduled distraction, the unseen benefits of rewilding won’t be enough to gain their support.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Nice picture, you should check out my Birds and Animals Gallery. Wildlife is one of my favourite things to photograph. Its always unpredictable and challenging to get good photos of animals. I really like your bear photos. Is the top bear a Black Bear? I know the bottom one is a Grizley. It seems to be a much larger build than the bear at the top of your post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, absolutely. The top bear is a black bear, photographed in Glacier NP. I did not get a photo of my close encounter with Big Mom there. As I was backing away, I was busy trying to think of how I’d use my superior human brain to reason her out of employing any of the long list of physical advantages she had to end my life if she noticed me and thought I was threatening her cub. I wasn’t counting on success, though. I’m not much of a wildlife photographer. I look forward to seeing your gallery. Thanks as always for the comment.

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  5. Rewild Mir-a-Lago. Cover it over with the Everglades. Return the assorted alligators, crocodiles and friends to their original habitat. Bring back The Swamp.

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  6. I just finished writing a piece on rewilding/primitivism myself (scheduled to post in a couple of days). I particularly like how your post is very NOT one-sided. Many posts on rewilding tend to suggest that we divorce ourselves from any non-wild/unnatural “crutch” or luxury. I do believe that we seem to have been a bit…irresponsible/neglectful of our primitive self/primitive environment, but I don’t think that re-prioritizing requires abandonment of our “civilized” ways. I enjoyed your post and it has inspired me to think more on the matter. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Christian. No, it’s not a simple matter; would that it were. I look forward to reading your piece. If you would be so kind, and you remember, would you please post a comment here when it’s live, and I’ll read with interest. I guess I should say, “Go wild!”

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hi Brad, my post is now live. Thanks for checking it out!!

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      • I will. Thank you for remembering to let us know here.

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      • Christian, your site displays as “no longer available.” Could you post your URL, please? Thank you.

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      • That’s strange! For some reason it links to an old blog I deleted a while ago, even though I changed the settings. Hmmm. Thanks for pointing that out. The actual url to my blog is: onemanversustheworld.wordpress.com

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  7. Personally I would very much miss being in the midst of different landscapes (woods, prairies, desert, etc.) and seeing the flora and fauna of that particular landscape. I’ve enjoyed the experiences (not all of it rainbows) I’ve had coming in contact with wildlife and take a “it comes with the territory” approach. I’ve learned about the power of animals this way and about that vague thing called “respect” they can engender. I agree with reader “shoreacres” above who says that it is just as important to reintroduce people to the wild. “Nature” isn’t a theater performance, but the very ecosystem within which we live. Is “re-wilding” another of our egocentric attempts? Is the idea of “setting aside” parks itself a sort of segregation between “us” and “wildlife”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thoughtfully said. Your final question is a succinct summation of what I’m interested in exploring in this series of posts. My own take is that we do at least risk creating a greater divide between human animals and nature by saying, “HERE, beyond this boundary, is ‘Nature.’ On THIS side, not so much.” I don’t pretend it’s a simple question with easy answers (there may be no “answer”). I’m interested in promoting consideration of the issue, and I thank you for contributing.

      Liked by 2 people


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