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Announcing Our New Interactive Forum: Trusting Wildness

Wildlands Network is pleased to announce our upcoming new blog series, Trusting Wildness.

With an affectionate nod to Wild Earth journal, Trusting Wildness will provide an intellectual home for the blending of conservation biology, activism, and ethics.

Wild Earth is dearly missed by the conservation community, and we are often asked to bring it back. But times have changed. Print periodicals are challenged financially and by the pace of everyday life.  Wild Earth‘s niche remains unfilled.

Our 2016 anniversary booklet, For the Wild, was designed to evoke Wild Earth and our deep ecology roots—an elegant reminder of the values that keep us true. Among our supporters, this publication tapped a deep longing for a another forum to examine the difficult challenges we face as conservationists.

We are excited to once again provide such a forum for discussing today’s conservation challenges, as we also seek to inspire a broad audience to rethink humanity’s relationship with the living world.

In the coming months, we invite you to read, reflect on, and respond to our periodic blog posts addressing rewilding and wildness in the 21st century. Initial posts will comprise a mix of classic pieces from Wild Earth with new, original content written by our staff, invited contributors, and other friends. The evolution of Trusting Wildness will be influenced most strongly by you—our supporters and readers who choose to engage. Please join the conversation!

Keep an eye on The Wildlands Network Blog for the official launch of Trusting Wildness. In the meantime, take a look at our first post below!

Small Steps, Deep Roots, Wild Journey

by Greg Costello

In the very first issue of Wild Earth, Dr. Reed Noss—one of the leading conservation biologists of our time—told us if we protect 40-60 percent of the Earth’s surface (both land and water), we can save wild Nature.

Wildlands Network’s map of the Eastern Wildway builds upon E.O. Wilson’s Half-Earth approach by protecting 48.68% of eastern North America.

More recently, renowned biologist Dr. E.O. Wilson reiterated this mantra with his Half-Earth campaign, arguing that we must save 50 percent of the Earth to preserve biodiversity. Even this lofty “Half-Earth” goal, however, scarcely considers the impacts of human consumption: soil depletion and the draining of aquifers, or the waste products polluting our air, land, and water while driving climate change. If we are to save ourselves and wild Nature, we need to start protecting the “Whole Earth.” 

Individually and collectively, we must redefine our relationship with Nature. We can no longer sit back trusting governments to look out for our common welfare. Governments are too slow, corrupt, and self-serving to save us. A renewed relationship with nature that saves Nature—and humanity—can happen only if we succeed in creating and embracing new ways of thinking and acting in harmony with the Earth that sustains us.

The Will of the Wild

Now consider a number: 7.5 billion. How the hell do 7.5 billion humans begin to live in harmony rather than in competition with the rest of life on Earth? Where do we even start?

Wildlands Network is rooted in the teachings of Arne Naess and deep ecology, which, at its roots, proclaims that all wildeors—“self-willed” creatures; indeed creation itself—must be allowed to live and die by Nature rather than be subjugated to human will. A naïve, even quixotic perspective? Perhaps.

Indeed, this worldview is antithetical to the human-centered, consumptive practices dominating today’s “first world” nations. And to expect the billions of people in “third world” countries—who, on a daily basis, live without sufficient food, water, shelter, and safety—to put the needs of other life forms ahead of their very survival, is a nonstarter.

Paradoxically, often our best intentions to protect Nature may do more harm than good. Wildlands Network has long preached restoration, but do we even know enough to do this well? And do some of our actions run afoul of honoring the self-will of creation?

This 3-D model shows a wildlife bridge connecting two wild areas over a highway.
Wildlands Network’s 3-D rendering of a potential jaguar overpass on Mexico’s Highway 2.

Our history of trying to fix Nature is rife with troubling results. For instance, the introduction of mongooses to Hawaii to eat rats that had escaped from whaling ships has led to the eradication of almost all endemic, ground-nesting birds from those islands. Is wildness best realized by leaving Nature alone? What are the implications for worldwide efforts to restore damaged ecosystems? 

No Easy Answers

Others in our community fight on a daily basis to maintain a status quo—to preserve wilderness—embracing an inaccurate quote from Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Walking” (Thoreau wrote that in wildness, not wilderness, is the preservation of the world). Is preserving the status quo an appropriate perspective for conservationists? 

Northern spotted owl. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

For instance, should we support shooting barred owls, a habitat generalist, to try to save the northern spotted owl, a habitat specialist being pushed out of native habitats as barred owls move into Pacific Northwest old-growth forests?

And these “natural resource management” debates are the relatively easy questions. What about the even more complex issues that directly impact our ability to save Nature, yet that we tend to avoid talking about: war, population control, immigration, national defense, religious dogma, the domestication of animals, eating meat?

Rigorous, contemplative thought will be essential to making radical shifts in our relationship with Nature and our actions on its behalf. Before we can advocate a new understanding of and relationship with wildness, we must grapple with what this means for us—the self-appointed guardians of the wild.

We must ask ourselves, are our deeds in keeping with our beliefs? If we lived our lives in ways that truly respected the inherent self-will of all living beings, how would our behaviors change, and how would this change the world?  What are the implications for our daily lives—our diets, how we travel, whether or not we choose to have children, the role of technology?  Finally, if we as a conservation community were to succeed in rewilding our own hearts and minds, how would we scale up such rewilding to the masses of humanity?

These are the type of questions we intend to confront in Trusting Wildness. Engaging, provocative thought-pieces written by conservation luminaries, outdoor recreationists, Wildlands Network supporters, staff and board members, naturalists and beyond. Our hope is to inspire people to rethink their relationship with Earth and all self-willed beings. To motivate individuals to take small steps that will make big and meaningful differences. To illuminate issues that no other organization in the conservation community is willing to talk about. And to help initiate a wave of change that will build in amplitude until we rewild North America. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: We’d love to hear what you think about this post! To engage with us and the Trusting Wildness community, please scroll down past the thumbnail photographs below and either (1) click “Reply” and type a reply to an existing comment, or (2) enter your thoughts in the comment box beneath “Tell us what you think!” Include your email address and your name (if you prefer, you can type “Anonymous”), and then click “Post Comment.” Your name will appear with your comment, but your email address will not. Thanks for joining the conversation.

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