Rewilding is a process of restoring ecosystems by reintroducing native keystone species; quolls, devils and other top end predators. There are many types of rewilding from very hands on active rewilding to more passive hands off processes.
Now a global trend, the approach is to reactivate the complex relationships between species – such as apex predators and their prey, for example – enabling these ecosystems to once again sustain themselves. Rewilding has successfully captured a lot of public interest overseas. Conservation group Rewilding Europe has a network of eight rewilding areas and a further 59 related projects, covering 6 million hectares in total.
In the USA rewilding projects re-introducing apex predators such as wolves to Yellow Stone National Park have made headlines for the rapid results in the improvement of river systems and combating erosion with the reduction in elk numbers which had exploded due to the loss of their natural predators.
Rewilding is understandably popular as it provides hope and inspiration amid the seemingly endless stories of despair over ecological disaster. But in Australia, and particularaly Tasmania, we need to do rewilding in a way that fits our vast landscapes and ecological niches. The particular challenges we face with issues such feral plant and animal species mean that we need to take a place based approach that deeply engages with science and local understandings.
A paper published in 2019 builds on findings from a rewilding forum held in Sydney in late 2016 where academics, government and non-government agencies met to discuss some of the outstanding issues around rewilding in Australia. Despite the large, diverse audience and wide-ranging views, the forum succeeded in identifying some key themes.
'Rewilding is increasingly recognized as a conservation tool but is often context specific, which inhibits broad application. Rewilding in Australia seeks to enhance ecosystem function and promote self‐sustaining ecosystems. An absence of large‐bodied native herbivores means trophic rewilding in mainland Australia has focused on the restoration of functions provided by apex predators and small mammals. Because of the pervasive influence of introduced mesopredators, predator‐proof fences, and establishment of populations on predator‐free islands are common rewilding approaches. This sets Australian rewilding apart from most jurisdictions and provides globally relevant insights but presents challenges to restoring function to broader landscapes.' (Oisin etal).
Passive rewilding – the removal of human agriculture, resulting in the return of natural vegetation – has had positive impacts on biodiversity in Europe. It could have similarly positive impacts here, for example by increasing the density of tree hollows in previously logged forest and woodland. But a complete removal of management is unlikely to be effective because of, for example, the need to manage fire and the presence of introduced species like cats that exert influences on other species and even entire ecosystems. Not to mention the need to eradicate invasive weeds that crowd out native species.
Rewilding in Tasmania would need to be done #TassieStyle. It will require active management of our unique landscapes and species, taking note that many of our wild places are adjacent to towns and farmland. This active approach to rewilding provides huge potential for research and onground collaborations between academic institutions, local land managers/owners and the creation of rewilding roles needing boots on ground and practical bush skills. Rewilding in Tasmania should be viewed as an important conservation tool, and an avenue for for re-skilling and reconnecting people to these landscapes that also provides long term valuable work opportunities.
The north east of Tasmania has been nominated as a site of extreme interest for rewilding projects due to our relative geographical remoteness, existing areas of relatively undisturbed forests and grasslands, and our diverse biological ecosystems. A rewilding program as part of a North East Tasmania Gondwana National Park would provide a clear evidence based framework for a national park that repairs rivers and landscapes, creates long term research and onground work and creates a place where people can experience our wild places regenerating and repairing. While still enjoying the recreational activities our part of the world is becoming renown for.