American Rewilders Should Worry about Europe (Take Two)

This one is a PDF. Download it at the link below:

This paper represents yet another iteration of my exploration of the transatlantic ambiguity in ‘rewilding’ and its covariate ecological and ethical assumptions. I composed it after chatting with Jack Humphrey for a future episode of the Rewilding Earth Podcast, thinking about all the things I could’ve said more compactly, and all the other things I should’ve made room to say instead…

…and, well, I actually didn’t set out to write the attached paper (even though it might look deceptively formal with those footnotes); it just kinda manifested as I was thinking over how I might reframe and rephrase some things, in conjunction with a bit of further reading I’d been doing on the side.

There is much overlap with my recent long-form essay “On Rewilding (Whatever That Is): Thoughts of a Faux-Expat” (October 2022), and like that one it is geared toward a North American audience. However, I aim to be more direct in illustrating why rewilding advocates in the North American tradition ought to worry about what’s happening in Europe under the heading of ‘rewilding’ (or, otherwise, why they bear the burden of proof in explaining why the practices in Europe are, in fact, consistent with the ecological and moral foundations of rewilding). 


In this paper, I remind the reader of the semantic fact that ‘rewilding’ refers to naturalistic grazing (at least as the term’s prototype or exemplar) in the hegemonic European discourse (§1). Then I draw an important distinction between two types of questions that should be raised concerning practices called ‘rewilding’ in Europe (§§2-3). The first is whether certain projects should be called ‘rewilding’ despite being limited in their scope and scale (§2). This question is not unimportant; however, I believe that it has garnered too much attention in exclusion of the even bigger question of whether certain projects should be undertaken at all. In the case of European naturalistic grazing, I believe that this is the question that must be asked (§3), not merely whether the projects should be called ‘rewilding’ in spite of their often small size. I elaborate this claim by invoking topics with which a North American rewilding audience should be familiar: the depletion of vegetation in landscapes with abundance of large herbivores without natural predators (§3.1); the afforestation of abandoned farmland (§3.2); the status of Pleistocene rewilding (§3.3).  

Some apologists for European “rewilding” emphasise that Europe cannot accommodate the scale of rewilding possible in the North American continent. That is beside the point, however, because it is a two-way ocean, and naturalistic grazing could be implemented in North America. I challenge North American rewilding advocates to explain why they are not advocating similar practices for their own continent – and, in turn, why these reasons should not apply equally to Europe (§3.4).

But, of course, I couldn’t stop there without revisiting my diagnosis of my own main reasons – the foundational moral intuitions – for my differing attitudes toward the “rewilding” traditions in North America versus Europe. At the end of “On Rewilding (Whatever That Is),” I posed a “double bind” for Rewilding Europe and its agrarian/Pleistocene baselines; I develop that a bit more here (§4). 

Download this latest permutation of my work on rewilding (whatever that is) here (only available in pdf format, at least at the moment; note that it does have some embedded links):