What is Rewilding

The term rewilding has two common meanings, one belonging to the field of conservation biology, the other belonging to the political ideal of green anarchism. Although both refer to returning to natural habitats, the biology term deals with animals and plants, while the political term deals with humans.

First, rewilding is a conservation biology term referring to passive and active activities to reintroduce once-native species back into their natural habitats. Usually these are captive or domesticated animals in need of rehabilitation to help them regain survival instincts before returning to the wild. Some attribute the term’s development to Michael Soul in the mid- to late-1990s. His defintion of rewilding though focused on “restoring big wilderness based on the regulatory roles of large predators,” as he and co-author Reed Noss stated in a 1998 “Rewilding and Biodiversity” published in Wild Earth. Others attribute the term’s coining to conservationist Gus Van Dyk in 2003 to describe the reintroduction of the South China Tiger by the Save China’s Tigers group.

To learn more online, visit The Rewilding Institute Web site which provides free educational materials and presentations on the subject. Suggested offline readings on the rewilding of animal or plant species, include the books: “Wilderness Comes Home: Rewilding the Northeast” by Christopher McGrory Klyza and “Rewilding North America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century” by Dave Foreman.

Second, rewilding is a political term referring to people who choose to leave organized society to return to a more primitive, self-sufficient way of life, living in wildness areas alone or in small settlements. The settlements may or may not be militant in nature, as well. Residents of rewilded communities live off the grid, build homes with local materials, carry their water from local, natural water sources, and hunt, gather, or grow their own food. Within the United States, the states of Virginia, North Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky and Georgia are home to a number of such settlements, created by residents concerned with the environment and responding to predictions of societal collapse.

Photographer Lucas Foglia has documented many such communities throughout the southeastern United States, exploring “the complexity of their relationship with the natural world.” To learn more online, visit Wildroots.org, the Web site of a self-described “30-acre radical homestead” located in Madison County, North Carolina, for a rewilding primer and readings. Suggested offline readings on human rewilding, include the books: “Practicing Primitive” by Steve Watts and “The Revolution Will Not be Microwaved: Inside America’s Underground Networks” by Sandor Ellix Katz.