Radical conservation

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(HOST) Commentator Ted Levin says that returning the wolf to the northeast is part of an inclusive environmental concept that also recognizes the role of the human population.

(LEVIN) The rural Northeast is a landscape bereft of big predators. That wolves would reawaken the somnolent woodlands of Vermont is inarguable. With wolves in their midst, the deer around my house in Coyote Hollow would be forced to live their lives looking over their shoulders. For the first time in more than a century they’d actually be wild.

Bringing wolves back to the Northeast as environmentalists pro-
pose to do is radical conservation, conservation that depends on the good will of the people who live on and work the land. To achieve that good will, writes Jonathan S. Adams in his book,
The Future of the Wild, will take a grassroots and national effort.

Adams wants to make farming and ranching, logging and tourism sustainable over an entire ecoregion – a broad expanse of related ecosystems – while still protecting watersheds, expanding parks, and creating wild corridors that bridge sacrosanct refuges. A con-
servation biologist with The Nature Conservancy, Adams draws examples for radical conservation from across the United States. The methods are all the same: protect large swaths of land, connect protected land, but don’t exclude people. The solutions, however, are not. Each ecoregion must address its own issues and create its own answers, which are as different as the landscapes themselves.

The concept of “radical conservation” traces its roots to 1967, when Edward O. Wilson and Robert MacArthur published The Theory of Island Biogeography. Suddenly, ecologists began
to see national parks and wildlife refuges as islands in the sea
of emasculated grasslands or forests or wetlands (or worse. . . sprawl).

Adams takes that idea further, and states that in order to protect large parcels of land, like the rural Northeast, sustainable human activity and sustainable wildlife populations must not be mutually exclusive.

Having spent eleven years commuting to Florida to cover the Everglades I can state emphatically: no other conservation-
related project in North America is as large and as convoluted
as Everglades restoration, a landscape-replumbing that by all estimates will cost upwards to $10 billion and will take more than thirty years to complete. In the end (and if it works) woodstorks will have a healthier watershed punctuated by natural cycles of drought and flood, and Miami will have drinking water. Restoring the Everglades may be the biggest test case for radical conserva-
tion: Within a morning’s drive of a roadless wilderness sixty miles across, four and a half million people brush their teeth in water originally meant for spoonbills and crocodiles. The project will
take the combined effort of no less than eight state and federal agencies, two Indian tribes, nine county governments, and representatives from farming, ranching, sport and commercial fishing, and tourism.

The Future of the Wild details what must be done to keep America functioning as an ecological whole that favors panthers as well as people. It is a step in the direction of making Vermont’s deer afraid of their own shadow again.

This is Ted Levin from Coyote Hollow in Thetford Center.

Ted Levin is a writer and photographer and winner of the 2004 Burroughs Medal for Nature Writing. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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