Can you imagine a wild Scandinavia filled with untamed forests, wild boar, and large predators (and maybe a stray Viking)? This is the dream of some scientists advocating for the reintroduction of species once found in Europe that have either been hunted to extinction or driven out by intensive agriculture. The reintroduction of species, particularly animals dubbed “ecosystem engineers” such as beavers and large carnivores are of special interest due to the positive landscape-level effects of these species.
Why support bringing species back?
Reintroducing species, or rewilding, can have effects well beyond making hippies in Green Peace happy. The reintroduction of beavers in the UK, for example, has reduced flooding in Devon, and the reintroduction of wild boar in Sweden has led to an increase in plant species across habitat types where the wild pigs rooted. The reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone National Park in my home country the good old US of A has led to the natural regulation of deer and elk populations, in turn leading to more diverse forests as grazing of seedlings decreased.
Why not reintroduce species?
Reintroducing species has understandably led to controversy. Sure, wolves are cool-until they eat your sheep. Since wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone in the 1990s, locals have protested citing safety concerns, the loss of livestock, and a decreasing population of elk for hunters. In Sweden, the boom in wild boar numbers has led to destruction of crops, and much outcry from farmers. Having protected species on land also makes it harder for companies to extract natural resources, both from a political and practical perspective (image a miner facing off with a bear).
The future of reintroducing species in Scandanavia
Species that are either being reintroduced in the UK and US or are under consideration are being hunted to extinction in Scandinavia. Norway, a country known for leading the change in environmental issues, is mired in debate over maintaining their current populations of large carnivores like wolves and wolverines. It seems unlikely that sheep farmers that have pushed for the cull of wolves to protect their flocks would support bringing in any more large animals that might pose a threat to their economic well being. If a species like wild boar are reintroduced to Norway like in Sweden and carnivore populations are kept low, hunting would be the main limitation to the population exploding to pig-pocalypse proportions.
Bringing back some of the species we have lost could bring back some biodiversity that we have lost. There will be short term costs, but the long term benefits of preserving biodiversity for future generations is immeasurable. However, I do think the Viking is best left extinct.
For more information on rewilding, we invite you to read the following works.
Feral by George Monbiot, The Return of Native Nordic Fauna project
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History by Elizabeth Kolbert