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Radical Conservation for a Crowded World
by Jonathan S. Adams
Beacon, 288 pp., $27.95

The Future of the Wild

I live in the rural Northeast, a landscape bereft of big predators. Biologists believe that northern New England and the adjacent Adirondack Mountains of New York State could support about 1,300 wolves. That wolves would reawaken the somnolent woodlands from Maine to New York is inarguable. With wolves in their midst, deer in my hollow would be forced to live their lives looking over their shoulders. For the first time in more than a century, they'd actually be wild.

Bringing wolves back to the Northeast, or jaguars to the Southwest, as some environmentalists propose to do, is a revolutionary notion; it's a radical approach to conservation that depends on the goodwill of the people who live on and work the land. To achieve this, writes Jonathan S. Adams in The Future of the Wild, will take a collaborative regional and national effort to provide "the loom on which we can weave varied human and nonhuman communities together into an ecologically and socially functioning whole."

The goal, Adams writes, is to make farming, ranching, logging, and tourism sustainable over an entire ecoregion -- a broad expanse of related ecosystems -- while still protecting watersheds, expanding parks, and creating wild corridors that bridge sacrosanct refuges. A conservation biologist and program director with the Nature Conservancy, Adams draws examples of radical conservation from all over the country, from the Pacific Northwest to the Florida Everglades, from Orange County, California, to the northern Rocky Mountains. The goals are the same: Protect large swaths of land, connect protected land, but don't exclude people. The solutions, however, are not. Each ecoregion must address its own issues and create its own answers, which can be as different as the landscapes themselves.

The Future of the Wild is also a history of conservation biology, a toddler among mature branches of science. In 1967, E. O. Wilson and Robert MacArthur published The Theory of Island Biogeography, and a new science was born: Ecologists began to see national parks as islands in a sea of emasculated grasslands or forests or wetlands (or worse, sprawl). Adams profiles ecologists and activists, as well as grassroots and national conservation organizations, in a seamless flow of readable prose to make his point that sustainable human activity and sustainable populations of wildlife must not be mutually exclusive.

No other conservation-related project in North America (or the world, for that matter) has gained as much attention as the restoration of the Everglades, a landscape replumbing that by all estimates will cost upward of $10 billion and take more than 30 years to complete. In the end -- and if it works -- wood storks will have a healthier watershed reflecting natural cycles of drought and flood, and Miami will have drinking water. Everglades restoration may be the biggest test case for radical conservation: Within a morning's drive of a wilderness 60 miles across, 4.5 million people brush their teeth with water they share with spoonbills and crocodiles. To restore the Everglades and to ensure that there is enough water for agricultural and urban needs will take the combined effort of no fewer than eight state and federal agencies, nine county governments, two Indian tribes, and representatives from farming, ranching, tourism, and sport and commercial fishing.

Adams's book details what must be done in the Everglades and elsewhere to keep America functioning as an ecological whole that nurtures pumas as well as people. According to one pundit, if the project works, "We may get to keep the planet."
-- Ted Levin

Living Green
Open Space

Reviewed in this Issue
Return to Wild America
Twilight of the Mammoths
The Future of the Wild

From Our Contributors

New and Selected Poems, Volume Two
Mary Oliver, one of our country's most distinguished poets, has just published New and Selected Poems, Volume Two (Beacon, $24.95). Her much-anticipated book contains 42 new poems and 69 previously published poems, including "Mountain Lion on East Hill Road, Austerlitz, NY," which originally appeared in OnEarth in Fall 2002. Oliver won the National Book Award in 1992 for the collection's prequel, New and Selected Poems, Volume One.

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OnEarth. Winter 2006
Copyright 2005 by the Natural Resources Defense Council