Return of the Wild
Will humans make
way for the greatest
experiment in centuries?
Similar projects are being considered around the world. In the Netherlands, conservation biologists are rewilding a 22-square-mile preserve – the Oostvaardersplassen – with Heck cattle, Konik ponies, and red deer to create a simulacrum of the landscape as it was 13,000 years ago. The European Green Belt, which would extend more than 5,000 miles from the Barents Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, is an ambitious attempt to restore the former militarized zones in Eastern Europe. In North America the “Buffalo Commons,” first proposed in the late 1980s, would convert millions of acres of land in the Midwest into native short grass prairie dominated by bison.
Even if cougars could survive in parts of the Northeast, most observers agree that there is little interest on the part of state agencies or the USFWS in a potentially controversial reintroduction. In the absence of any federal program, Spatz says his foundation plans to launch a national recovery plan, first for cougars and then possibly other large predators. “We’re making the argument that this is actually based on what we know about ecosystems and how wolves and cougars kind of guard and shepherd ecosystems,” he says. “There’s no reason the Adirondacks should not only have cougars, they should have wolves and elk and moose and forest bison and lynx. The whole ecosystem should be back there.”“You’ve got wolves running up and down the peninsula of Italy,” says Chris Spatz, president of the West Virginia-based Cougar Rewilding Foundation. “The Carpathian Mountains of Romania have a higher human density than interior New England and you’ve got brown bears, European grizzlies, and wolves all over the place. So we know we can do this.”