February 2016

Reintroductions

Three subspecies of the island fox were relisted from “endangered” to “threatened”, affirming the successful rewilding of bald eagles in California’s Channel Islands. This is another example of a trophic cascade.

More fallow deer are being released in Bulgaria, more ferrets in Western Kansas, and polecats are now rewilding themselves across the UK.

Timber rattlesnakes have been reintroduced in Massachusetts, and San Diego Zoo have been helping with the reintroduction of the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect.

On the urban front, ravens are returning to New York and otters are returning to Singapore.

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Leonardo DiCaprio, WWF and others have helped secure Sumatra’s rainforest, while First Nations and British Columbia have committed to protecting the Great Bear Rainforest. Rewilding Europe have taken both Lapland and The Sonian Forest under its wing.

Rewilding Europe also officially launched their bison project and vultures project. In Banff National Park (Canada), 30-40 wild bison are expected on the ground by winter 2017.

There was good news for western lowland gorillas in the Central African Republic and hippos in the Congo. At long last, Kenyans are now able to watch their own country’s megafauna on TV – rewilding Kenyan public attitudes.

Finally, don’t miss the interactive piece on rewilding Elwha River by Lynda Mapes – Roaring back to life.

Talking Points

Rewilding was not without its criticism this month. A specifically anti-ray theory of marine trophic cascade came under criticism, as did the rewilding concept more generally.

On the other hand, a number of scientists showed how ecological restoration directly slows global warming. This can happen through young rainforest growth, and biodiversity and top predators.

Struggles over land use are ongoing across Africa and the United States. The National Geographic ran a headline piece celebrating the importance of national parks, while the Wilderness Society explained how these areas are stopping us going blind.

The arguments for de-wilding the world of mosquitoes are also being discussed, alongside the arguments not to.

Cats

Wild lions have been secretly surviving in Ethiopia. An ocelot was spotted in Argentina for the first time in a decade, a jaguar appeared in the USA, and in Scotland a wildcat was caught on camera in the Angus Glens.

Meanwhile, more Iberian lynxes were released in Extremadura. There is enthusiasm for doing the same in Scotland with Eurasian lynxes. Two things that might interest these lynx enthusiasts are: the findings that Canadian lynxes have been choosing different habitats than predicted, and the research on how lynxes interact with agriculture.

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Oregon’s wild cougar population is growing. Living alongside large wild cats obviously comes with its risks, as demonstrated by the wild leopard that found itself in a built up area of Bangalore and panicked. Three people received minor injuries (one a wildlife activist) before the leopard was tranquilised and returned to its habitat.

Prime Minister Modi will be inaugurating the Asian Ministerial Summit on tiger conservation in April. This coincides with the discussion on how big data could help hunt India’s tiger poachers. Also relevant, is the fact that twice as many tigers are being kept as pets in the USA than exist in the wild globally.

Bears

The rewilding movement has been taking root in Britain’s newspapers – even the Telegraph ran a story advocating the reintroduction of British bears. Meanwhile on the continent, a male brown bear is being prepared for release in the Pyrénées.

The trend seems to be going the other way in the United States. Lydia Millet explained the new threats to Yellowstone’s grizzly bears in the NY Times. This was matched by two petitions, one to stop the hunting of Florida’s black bears, and one to stop trophy hunting in the freshly protected Great Bear Rainforest.

Wolves

Wolves were under attack last month.

Idaho have decided to renew their aerial slaughter of wolves. At the same time, Oregon’s “environment committee” voted to remove the gray wolf from the state’s list of endangered species, despite loud opposition from 25 leading scientists. The Sportsmen’s Heritage and Recreational Enhancement Act also abolishes protections for gray wolves in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes.

This anti-wolf agenda is being matched by governments in Finland, Switzerland and Italy.

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But it doesn’t have to be this way. Simon Reeve has drawn attention to the effectiveness of sheepdogs in Greece. There is plenty of advice for coexisting with wolves available in both Europe and America.

And public support for wolves in the US is growing. In North Carolina thousands of residents (and hundreds of landowners) signed a petition saying they wanted to live alongside red wolves. In Alaska there are moves to bolster the protection of wolves, coyotes and bears.

Trees

Exciting satellite technology is now able to track deforestation in real time, issuing warning just hours after tree loss is detected.

Planting trees is undeniably a good idea, and a landmark study found that newly grown rainforests can absorb 11 times as much carbon from the atmosphere as old-growth forests.

The Royal Society underlined the importance of forest corridors as pollen lifelines. Community Forests International gave their best advice on how to plant trees, and the WRI presented some inspiring restoration stories from Vietnam, South Korea and China.

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The news from Europe however, has been less than inspiring. Scientists explained that European forest management has not been mitigating climate warming, but actually contributing to it. Simultaneously, over 110 organisations wrote an open letter to the EU explaining that burning trees is not renewable energy. Read the full declaration here (and share it).

Meanwhile, there were some interesting developments in the UK, one of the least wooded countries in Europe. Responding to the country’s recurring flood crisis, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology explained that “water penetrates the ground 67 times faster when there are trees on it”.

This statement was matched by George Monbiot’s appearance in parliament, where he explained common sense vegetative logic to the Environmental Audit Committee. James Bevan, the Environment Agency’s new chief executive, responded by saying he agreed “with the concept of rewilding”.

This was paralleled by a petition to “make planting trees a priority to reduce flooding by improving soil and drainage”. The government have responded with a fairly positive statement. The statement doesn’t make any big commitments, but at least doesn’t mention the word dredge.

Australia

In a parody of environmental politics, oil magnate Sheikh Mohammed awarded Australia’s environment minister Greg Hunt best minister in the world. In a way this was suitable, as Australia’s approach to its environment has been like something George Orwell would write.

The “Biodiversity Conservation Act” was accused of being a pro-logging, pro-mining land clearance law, and resulted in conservation groups storming out of consultation meetings. Meanwhile an “environmental court” approved the violent removal of one of Australia’s largest koala populations, and destruction of their woodland. Why? To build a giant 24hr open coal mine.

But it hasn’t been entirely travesty Down Under (just mostly). Daniel Hunter has been floating some interesting ideas about how the Tasmanian Devil could have the same effect on the mainland, as wolves have had in Yellowstone. The concept has also been illustrated here.

TIME’s Travel & Leisure magazine also drew attention to the ambitious project in South Australia that is rewilding a 60,000-acre sheep ranch.

Oceans

The 14th Sustainable Development Goal is about not destroying the living ocean, and a number of small, often poorer nations are being world leaders in this.

Two inspiring examples covered this month are Palau and Gabon.

Meanwhile, in wealthier more powerful countries, scientists are pleading with their governments not to shrink or destroy their marine conservation areas. The Welsh government have been accused of pursuing dreadful science in a mockery of marine conservation. They are pushing to scallop dredge Cardigan Bay’s “strictly protected special area of conservation”. In Scotland, politicians are actively increasing the risk of an oil spill in dolphin waters.

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Daniel Pauly has exposed that fish harvests were drastically higher than reported between 1950 and 2010. Europe’s response has been to continue set catch limits above scientifically justifiable levels. This pushed WWF representative Dermot O’Gorman to explain that overfishing is a threat to humanity.

But it isn’t entirely devastating news. Presumed dead, wild Atlantic salmon have been returning to the Connecticut River. There is talk of rewilding some of SeaWorld’s de-wilded orcas, and thankfully, no fin whales will be hunted in Iceland this summer.

Landowners

Ecological restoration cannot happen without landowners.

In the US, there were calls to end sheep grazing on public lands around Yellowstone, and the NWF organised a report explaining how wild sheep were under threat from domestic sheep.

Agricultural scientists explained how planting wildflowers enhances crop yields and pest control. Wildflowers are also essential for bees, and humans depend on bees.

There was a very engaging article from dairy farmer Marian McDonald in The Guardian, who said:

“I need to know whether we should be working towards farming cows, canola or cacti sooner rather than later. Farmers are innovators by nature. Rather than simply howling to the wind when it’s all too late, I will do something about it.”

Beavers

February began with news of the unnecessary slaughter of pregnant beavers in Tayside. Weeks later, beavers were making headline news again in the UK, but for different reasons.

Studies have shown that beavers prevent flooding, mitigate dry summersimprove rivers, filter phosphate and nitrate, and even benefit anglers.

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This, in the context of UK failure to meet EU standards of water bodies. Only 21% of British rivers are considered healthy.

This has led to calls for the legal protection of beavers, to prevent future slaughters and extinctions. All eyes are on Aileen McLeod.

Wildlife Crime

The struggle to actually protect protected wildlife from gamekeepers is ongoing (follow updates at Raptor Persecution). In a recent development, two sporting estates are apparently taking the Government’s wildlife agency, Scottish Natural Heritage, to court for having the audacity to accuse them of killing birds.

Meanwhile in Maryland USA there is a $25,000 reward for information on the suspicious deaths of thirteen bald eagles.

Following the killing of Cecil the Lion last year, the UK promised to play a leading role in combating wildlife crime. They have followed through on this promise by deciding to scrap the National Wildlife Crime Unit.

Sign the petition to save the NWCU here.

Just this month a smuggler was apprehended with critically endangered European eels, and repeat offender Jeffrey Lendrum was caught smuggling four unborn albino peregrine falcon chicks. The one surviving falcon was returned to the wild. Without the NWCU, this sort of wildlife smuggling will be less policed.

DIY Rewilding

The Nature of Cities showcased the wilding of brownfield sites, and Eric Sanderson’s compelling case for urban conservationism.

The Wild Foundation are in the start-up phase of their Wild Cities campaign, and are recruiting “champions”.

A couple of rewilding tips for gardeners – don’t rake up all your leaves, and let dandelions grow. The NWF have also put together a range of resources on rewilding gardens and communities.

Finally, Oleksandra Budna wrote a fantastic piece on six ways to rewild your vocabulary.

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