In one of the most used and abused states in the nation, a small but growing number of conservationists have advanced a radical theory: Iowa is ripe for rewilding … “The solutions exist,” restoration ecologist Leland Searles said. “It’s a matter of allowing the solutions to happen.”

                                                                                ~ Stephen Robert Miller

It’s spring and the ache to be out in the yard and garden is very strong. Dandelions and various bulbs are flowering, the branches of trees and shrubs are tinged with the green of new leaves, and various birds are singing and starting to nest up. We’re seeing insects more now, but still many fewer than we will in a week or two. The lawn is mostly green now, but last year’s leaves are still clogging the beds. (I’ll leave them until it gets consistently warmer to protect the hibernating insects and larvae.)

My list of outdoor chores gets longer every day that I delay, as I notice additional clean up or new projects that need to be done. I think idly about maybe, just maybe, this year I might just walk the talk and grow a natural yard, my own version of rewilding. Let nature have its way and see what evolves. After all, nature was here first and maybe she knows best what to do here.

I don’t spray the dandelions like some of my neighbors do. I quit using Weed-N-Feed a few years ago, in part because I worried about our cats and dog. (I suppose I may actually just be lazy.)

The previous occupant of our house owned six coon hounds that turned the back yard into hard-packed dirt. We did lots of rototilling and weeding, re-sodded a lawn and created a vegetable garden. Soon, several rose bushes grew up in the middle of the vegetable garden, and some lilacs and chokecherries emerged in various places around the yard. Over the last forty-plus years, we started relocating these volunteers to places better suited for our needs, and today we have a thriving band of chokecherries across the back and side fences and in a corner of the front yard. The roses took well to several beds on the sides of the house and the lilacs form a pretty cluster just off the patio and along the east fenceline we share with our neighbors.

We’ve added a few trees to reinforce the hackberry and green ash around the fence line. The gigantic and ancient pear and companion apple were incorporated into new flower beds and we added a limber pine and crabapple tree to hide views of adjacent buildings.

It’s a nice yard, comfortable and not maintenance-intensive. But it is a long way from where I started with it and even farther from its historic wild state. However, we do have bunnies living under the tool shed, squirrels proliferate in the trees, mice mostly thrive (if they can avoid the cats) in a flower bed by a patio wall and we get raccoons wandering through most summer evenings. Early morning is for foxes and, very occasionally, larger animals like moose, elk and deer.

Stephen Robert Miller writes, “As a way of healing deeply scarred landscapes, however, rewilding is no easy solution. Whereas ecological restoration often works from the ground up on selective parcels to re-create how a place once appeared, rewilding approaches the problem at the top of the food web by reintroducing extirpated species, especially large carnivores, across huge areas. Often, that means setting aside vast tracts of land for nature to run its course with little human intervention. Gradually, the theory goes, roaming predators will usher in the myriad natural functions that constitute what we call nature.”

“In Europe, farmers and landowners have pledged to set aside hundreds of thousands of hectares for wildlife to slow species collapse. Wolves have already been reintroduced into Germany and lynx into Spain.”

We have our own predators, though I admit they’re not all that predatory. The cats play tag with the squirrels at the base of the bird feeders, and the dog diligently protects the yard from the marauding squirrels and bunnies. The jays, crows and ravens harass the cats if they get too aggressive.

“It is simply common sense to acknowledge that wolves are not soon going to be chasing bison across Iowa or north Texas, no matter how much we may dream,” Dave Forman, Earth First! co-founder wrote in 2004.

I suppose that’s a relief, since I don’t think bison, much less wolves, would do well in my yard, anyway. However, I do think that wild herds of dandelions are not only possible, but likely.

Additional information:

Stephen Robert Miller, Can Nature Reclaim Iowa?,  March 20, 2022, Sierra, magazine of the Sierra Club

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