The co-author of The 100-Mile Diet is advancing a new idea that proposes to give nature a stronger foothold in places it shares with people.
J.B. MacKinnon’s new book, The Once And Future World, makes the case for rewilding – creating conditions that will support wildlife so animals and plants can thrive there again.
Is rewilding your concept?
The word was coined in 1994. It’s almost been a term in search of a definition. It has taken on a few different definitions, but most have been too tightly rooted in traditional conservation. I find the definition of rewilding is expanding all the time. I am probably the first writer to embrace it as something as large in scale as traditional conservation.
Why is rewilding worth the effort?
It’s beneficial for us, as human beings, to be surrounded by a living and vibrant natural world. If we want to have anything like a whole, functioning, ecological planet, then we need to start making more space for nature and for wild things in the human world rather than simply separating the two.
How would rewilding apply within Vancouver?
There was a great example earlier this year. A beaver showed up at the Olympic Village. There’s an artificial wetland there the beaver moved into and lived in for more than a week before it moved on. There’s an example of an animal that delighted a lot of people, was doing its best to live in the city, but there simply hadn’t been enough accommodation for it. If we had designed a slightly larger artificial wetland with the idea it would incorporate beavers, we might have a beaver living right in the heart of the city right now. There’s other examples people have looked at such as specifically building skyscrapers to accommodate cliff-dwelling birds like the peregrine falcon and doing things to bring back the huge numbers of small fish that used to live in Vancouver waters – smelt and herring and oolican and a lot of these species that didn’t disappear that long ago. We could be doing more to accommodate migratory birds by changing the way we light the city.
And yet sometimes people are uneasy about being close to wild animals such as racoons, coyotes, skunks, rats.
All of those species are creatures that have invaded the city in a sense. We haven’t worked to accommodate them. I think there is an opportunity to think harder about this and actually design cities to accommodate other species and allow us to live alongside wild animals and plants in ways that we really haven’t in the past.
What can individuals in cities do to contribute to rewilding?
Rewilding really can be as straightforward as putting up a birdhouse. There are in all cities, and especially a place like Vancouver, organizations dedicated to ecological restoration. Also take some time to learn the history of nature and the historical ecology of this area because, when people do that, they almost always seem to find it absolutely fascinating to learn, for example, that there may have been California Condors flying over Burrard Inlet 250 years ago when the nearest California Condors are a thousand kilometres away in California today. The other thing individuals can do is actively reconnect with nature. The example I give in the book is where I went down to Trout Lake and just sat down and paid attention to nature for an hour and it was really an extraordinary experience. In that hour, I changed the way that I look at the city simply because it opened my eyes to how much life there still is around us in the urban landscape.
This is a pretty slim book. Why was that brevity important?
The books I was reading that fed into this topic were all massive. I just realized part of what was making this set of new ideas inaccessible were these large and complex books that people were producing on the subject, so I really dedicated myself from the outset to producing a book that would be quick and readable and you’d be able to put down and feel like you had encountered some new ideas.
You write in your acknowledgments that this was the last book your father read. What did he think of it?
He saw a slightly earlier draft. He saw probably the second draft. He enjoyed it. He thought the ideas in it were important and inspiring and he had some really good suggestions and changes that I made in the final draft. He died of leukemia, an unusual form of leukemia, while I was working the book towards its current position. Just last year.
This interview has been edited and condensed.