By Carina Olivetti
Have you heard of the term rewilding? Rewilding in urban environments has grown in popularity for many reasons. Rewilding turf grass lawns or parts of your landscape with native plant/tree species; improves soil heath, provides habitat for insects and birds, conserves water, eliminates chemical use, and increases human/nature connectivity.
Rewilding was first coined in 1990 by conservationist biologists Michael Soule and Reed Noss. Since then, the term rewilding has come to include environments of different scale and levels of meaning. Urban rewilding tends to focus on converting lawns to native plants, insect biodiversity, and food foresting. The most comprehensive definition of rewilding was written by 33 coauthors from around the world (including Soule and Noss). Guiding principles for rewilding in Society of Conservation Biology clarifies the principles that constitute rewilding and illustrates its varied applications. This paper emphasizes the importance of understanding your rewilding project and site-specific limits in order to be most effective.
Below is the coauthored definition from Guiding principles for rewilding:
‘Rewilding is the process of rebuilding, following major human disturbance, a natural ecosystem by restoring natural processes and the complete or near complete food web at all trophic levels as a self-sustaining and resilient ecosystem with biota that would have been present had the disturbance not occurred. This will involve a paradigm shift in the relationship between humans and nature. The ultimate goal of rewilding is the restoration of functioning native ecosystems containing the full range of species at all trophic levels while reducing human control and pressures. Rewilded ecosystems should—where possible—be self-sustaining. That is, they require no or minimal management (i.e., natura naturans [nature doing what nature does]), and it is recognized that ecosystems are dynamic.'
On June 11, 2023, Rewilding Lincoln, a recently formed Environmental Organization organized a walk/bike/ride tour in Lincoln, NE of 18 different rewilding projects throughout the city. The tour was called Lincoln TRUE. The four founding members started this group to build community around the realm of humans connecting with their outdoor spaces in different ways other than the socially normative turf grass lawns of the Midwest. Turf grass lawns have little benefit to the environment compared to a rewilded space. Lawns take a lot of water and chemical inputs to maintain and cause harm to insect biodiversity. Rewilding is the opposite. In the midst of severe drought and climate change now is the time to shift our culturally ingrained ideas about what is aesthetically pleasing. The rewilding and food foresting grassroots movements are aimed at helping others see success in this cultural and behavioral shift. These are working examples of how changing one small plot of land can support and benefit many more creatures than just humans.
If you participated in the Lincoln TRUE event, you most likely had a favorite “yardin.” Locations focused on things like pollinator habitat, beekeeping, food insecurity, naturopathy, and more. At All Things Madder on Garfield St, one could catch a whiff of different plant parts wafting off the porch while they simmered with textiles that were being dyed in big pots. Accompanying the natural dyeing process was a beautiful tortoiseshell cat named Patches. At Carol’s Garden on S. 16th St., “God’s Eyes” made with twigs and colorful yarn twirled slowly amongst the fruit and nut trees. At Arise Botanicals you might have learned about tinctures they make from the plants they grow, or maybe you petted a chicken that was freely roaming about. Here, one could gather mulberries as they were being shaken humanely from the tree. Then there was Rose Street House (the birthplace of Rewilding Lincoln), where rewilding has been happening for about two decades. One was welcome to sit on the porch and sip fresh brewed mint tea while chatting with some of the lovely rewilding humans that live here.
Nebraska Monarchs sponsored the event and is working collaboratively with Rewilding Lincoln and Rewilding Omaha. All three groups hope to partner with Wachiska Audubon for future events. The Wachiska Audubon has hosted a rewilding tour for the past 3 years in August. Stay tuned with rewilding events and projects in Nebraska by following Rewilding Lincoln or Rewilding Omaha on Facebook.
The practice of rewilding has all the elements that the United States Department of Agriculture and Natural Resources Conservation Service constitute as principles for high functioning soils. See attached PDF.
Learn more about rewilding in Doug Tallamy’s book “Nature’s Best Hope.”
Carver, S, et al. Guiding principles for rewilding. Conservation Biology. 2021; 35: 1882− 1893. https://doi.org/10.1002/cobi.13730