Thoughts of rewilding Pleistocene landscapes?

Have any of you heard of Pleistocene Park? It’s a giant nature preserve in Russia dedicated to recreating the mammoth steppes of several thousand years ago using various large herbivorous mammals to destroy woody vegetation, pack in permafrost, and convert forests to grassland. So far it has been working. They plan on releasing Siberian tigers once the herbivore population rises high enough, and even woolly mammoths if they are to be cloned one day. The packing in of permafrost by the mammals is said to hold in and sequester gases that would otherwise be released and contribute to global warming. What if something like this was done in Alaska and Canada as well? What are your thoughts on this?

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I always think of modern problems like urban sprawl and vast tracts of farmland when we talk about habitat loss, so it’s interesting when they say they think it was ancient humans hunting large game that transformed vast tracts of siberian grasslands into forests. It still doesn’t sound quite as neat as Jurassic Park, but researching it led me to the Saiga which is something new to me and worth at least 1 dinosaur of awesomeness.

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Reminds me a bit of some of the discussion/debate surrounding the "Buffalo Commons" concept in the late 80s/90s, although there are obviously some key differences between those two ideas and these two areas.

Looks like the main motivation is a little hypothesis-testing within the Pleistocene megafauna extinction debate. This kind of idea is always a good discussion-prompter in my environmental ethics class–whether or not to ‘bring back’ in some context extinct species. This situation would be the best case scenario from one perspective in that you could at least place an extinct species like mammoth back into a context that is reasonably close to its original ecosystem/habitat (rather than just a zoo/research enclosure/exhibit, etc.)

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First of all, I would like to acknowledge that ‘rewilding’ applies to a lot more than the topic being discussed here. I use it generally to refer to restoring damaged landscapes and to reintegrating humans into natural ecological surroundings. So perhaps the title of this thread is a little misleading if this discussion is only pertaining to the return of extinct Pleistocene megafauna or the return of their ecological role?

That said, I personally am quite opposed to the idea of bringing back long-extinct species. I don’t fall for the idea that humans are bad for nature and therefore any extinct species that our own may have played a role in the demise of should be brought back through technology. We (those of us alive today) weren’t alive when many Pleistocene mammals disappeared and I think it would be rather arrogant to assume that we have a perfect understanding of what happened to them. I’m convinced hominids played a role in the decline of many large mammals at this time, but I don’t see how we (hominids) can be seen as the sole cause, or at least as having played a role significant enough to warrant our action now. This all comes down to how we see ourselves in relation to other species, and our society presently seems to hold the belief that it is not within us to live in connection with wild landscapes and wild species without bringing great harm to them. Is it bad that the woolly mammoth died out? Is it good? Or is it just different? I personally think it is only different, not better or worse, especially considering that the loss of these species, if human-caused, had nothing to do with civilization and economic greed, as the loss of many species today have everything to do with. And is brining back charismatic megafauna really the most important thing we should be doing right now? Is not it more important to restore landscapes damaged by agriculture and urbanization? Is not it more important to stop pollution? Is not it more important to keep species today from going extinct? Of course, my thoughts on species whose extinctions were more recent and the reasons behind them more well known are quite different (for instance, the passenger pigeon).

I’m curious to hear more opinions on this matter.

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One of the big problems with ideas like the Pleistocene Park is that they often treat the environment as largely static outside of human influences.

This is a problem in conservation (my field) in general. People often want to “restore” the environment to how it was at some arbitrary time in the past, but that’s not how environments work. Even without humans in the mix they are dynamic and constantly changing.

I’m in favor of rewilding attempts in general, but they need to be looking to the future, for what the environment will become, not what it was.

Regarding Pleistocene Park specifically, I first heard about it back in the early 90s in my undergrad days and have been loosely following it since then. It’s an interesting idea with a lot of conceptual problems, but some good ideas too. Keep in mind that the area they’re working in is tiny, only about 16 square km. As an example of the conceptual issues, that’s roughly 1/20th the homerange range of a female Siberian tiger and less than 1/100th the homerange of a male Siberian tiger.

It’s less a “Pleistocene” park than it is a large animal park, which is fine, but don’t get too caught up in the hype and romance of it.

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if it doesn’t take into account the history of all the diverse human groups that also lived on the landscape at that time, it’s kind of a fantasy and possibly a harmful one. And heck in the case of Pleistocene Park would there have been Neanderthals for that matter? Not that i am proposing we clone them, that’s a whole other wonderland of weird sci-fi like ethical issues.

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Interesting and good points being made here. But I’m reminded of the old adage “don’t let the perfect stand in the way of the good.” However imperfect the concepts or the implementation, I’m just pleased this place isn’t another Sochi, Buffalo Wild Wings or monoculture field :slightly_smiling_face:

Looking for something more recent - I found this from 2016. Much worse.
https://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/8660-Sochi-Olympics-leave-an-environmentally-damaging-legacy

I’m kind of torn up on the whole issue of mammoth de-extinction. There is evidence that the herbivores are packing in the ice and holding in the gases, so the intent of the project is working so far. The best argument for cloning the mammoths and reintroducing them to the ecosystem is that they will compress more snow and lower the temperatures, combating climate change. The ecosystem argument is weaker because the mammoths would be hybrids and would obviously not simulate the mammoths of old, and that the mammoth steppes are long gone environments on this ever changing planet. You can argue that we don’t even need to clone the mammoths, that it would be easier to just introduce more herbivores instead of wasting time trying to bring them back. I would much rather see efforts going into saving existing species, with the cloning of extinct animals an afterthought.

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The worst environmental impact of Sochi Olympics is actually not a little cut from one natural reserve, but that “box tree moth”( Cydalima perspectalis) was introduced to an area with decorative plants from Italy. This moth had quite a feast on native relic boxwood forests, virtually destroying them. So a few of natural reserves here protect a dead forest, and nearly nothing can be made, as use of chemicals is prohibited inside reserve… I have been in that forest in 2007, and it was a beautiful (and very wet) place with ancient look. You can always argue, that pest introduction is a matter of time(this moth is invasive in Europe too), but Olympics definitely hastened that process.

But that was definitely an offtop.)

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In regards to resurrecting extinct species, I’m of the opinion that we shouldn’t dwell in the past, no matter what the results were. The loss of a species is tragic, but it happens. And yet, the world moves on and changes. We could be bringing such species back to a time that has forgotten them and even brought about newer organisms to fulfill the role left behind. As stated earlier in this topic, our efforts would likely be better spent preserving what we still have and facilitating it’s growth and evolution. No matter what atrocities lie in our past, the future is inevitable and we should adjust as necessary.

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