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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Baker

Landscape Restoration, A Small Dose of Rewilding

Updated: Apr 5

I’m working on a few landscape restoration design projects this spring that could benefit from a bit of rewilding.

I’ve been labeling some of my projects as such, in my head at least, because I think it sounds much more romantic than restoration. Rewilding campaigner George Monbiot’s eloquent TED talk and 2013 book, Feral echos what the late David Foreman, integral to the establishment of the conservation think tank, Rewilding Institute, has been preaching since the 70’s.


Rewilding.


Doesn’t it conjure up feelings of vast openness, mountains, wind in your hair and the howl of wolves in the distance? I like to think of myself as a “rewilder”, not a landscaper, but the reality is that most of my projects are islands that will never be connected and never resilient from a top down approach initiated by top predators; keystone concepts preached by rewilding advocates.


Nope. It will be a cold day in hell when wolves are allowed to roam the fragmented woodlands of Cedarburg, Wisconsin.

The wolf is integral to rewilding, but seldom a practical management option within fragmented woodlands

The white-tailed deer herd thrives here, loving the secrecy offered by the patchwork of woodlands choked with buckthorn and honeysuckle woven through all-you-can-eat cornfield buffets and lack of hunting pressure. To add insult to injury, these resilient critters browse what little remains of native plant communities, halting seed production and regeneration. Bonsai versions of maple and oak never seem to make it past the browse line. Good luck trying to find an aster that managed to hold onto its flowers in the fall.

White-tailed deer browse native woodland plants, stunting young oak and preventing flowers from going to seed

It’s not the deer’s fault. They’re just trying to make a living like everyone else. Synchronous with their boom, however, diversity suffers. Pollinators rely on those precious few flowers; birds and small mammals need those seeds. Woodlands, if they want to stay woodlands, need new stock waiting in the subcanopy wings to fill prime real estate in the canopy. When an ash succumbs to emerald ash borer, an oak or maple should be there to take its place, not held hostage as a clipped and twisted component of the groundlayer.


“The absence of top predators appears to lead inexorably to ecosystem simplification accompanied by a rush of extinctions.” –John Terborgh et al. in Continental Conservation


Obviously I can’t include “re-introduce wolves” into my woodland restoration proposals. It’s even tough to propose “install a 10-foot tall fence around perimeter,” given the expense and sometimes aesthetic compromise. I do what I can though, adding Deer-Out armour to newly introduced spring ephemerals, trees and shrubs. I’ve made it a habit to leave a hand-held spray bottle of the stuff with instructions to “holster your spray bottle and take it with you on your walks, spraying new plants every few weeks or so to prevent deer browse.”


They usually laugh at the holster reference, but I tell them that they’re protecting their investment.


Hardly rewilding, but the best I can do in the absence of wolves.

This woodland restoration project would benefit from a fence to omit deer brose, but it's not practical

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