No one can suggest that Dave Foreman shies away from the little controversy. The founder of Earth First!, Foreman is best remembered for his 1990 arrest for conspiracy to commit eco-sabotage. In more recent years, he has emerged as one of the leading proponents of the rewilding school of conservation, and is one of the founders of the Rewilding Institute. In my sophomore year of college, I had the opportunity to attend a lecture by Foreman, one which completely changed my outlook on conservation forever.
In Rewilding North America: A Vision for Conservation in the 21st Century, Foreman describes the environmental situation in America. Many writers have described quite clearly the negative ecological trends that the world has seen in recent years – and Foreman sums these up plainly in the first section of his book – but few then go on to offer what he does: hope. Hope, that is, coupled with a specific blueprint for its realization.
At a time when conservationists are scrambling to hold onto what little wilderness remains, Foreman challenges his readers to go on the offensive. He envisions a North America that is almost defined by conservation – chains of protected areas that link wilderness areas from the Yukon to the Sierra Madre. Focusing on the large American carnivores – the wolves, bears, and big cats – Foreman takes what seems like a ecological pipedream and makes it seem realistic and tenable. When you put down this book, you are literally struck with the awesome realization “It could work…”
Foreman has little to say of zoos in his book, but perhaps it is time that zoos had more to say about rewilding. Many (not enough, but many still) are involved with at least some reintroduction programs, from black-footed ferrets to southern brook trout. It's time to see what good zoos and aquariums could do it restoring the ecosystems in their back yard. Perhaps even more importantly, we could do a better job of sharing these rewilding stories with visitors. I have seen dozens of jaguar exhibits at zoos around the country, all of them set in Latin American jungles. When I talk to visitors about the jaguars at our zoo, I don’t talk to them about Amazonia, I talk about Arizona – I tell them that this is OUR American big cat, and about its recent reappearance in the US. Guests are usually shocked.
Rewilding North America is a book that is guaranteed to reinvigorate and reignite the passion of the constantly defeated conservationist. After reading it, you become inspired to go out, look around, and see what you can do yourself to make Foreman’s vision a reality. That, perhaps, is the best part of Foreman’s vision – it’s grassroots and it’s local. Americans are infamous for telling the rest of the world – Africa, Asia – how to conduct their affairs, in conservation and in virtually everything else. Perhaps we should get our own house in order first.