Wolves and bears:
the rewilding story of buzzwords.

“So, you lobby for wolves and bears now?”


Often enough, I hear this as a response to a conversation about what I do. Rewilding and ecological restoration tends to get a relatively wrong image, especially when it comes to ‘public relations’. 


No wonder. Just google news on ‘rewilding’. Chances are that the first articles that pop up are somewhat picturing or revolving around wolves or bears. 


Although rewilding offers a much deeper philosophy based on the wholeness of ecosystems and their function,  charismatic species somehow stick better with media. They stick so well that they might even be closing the gates for debates about rewilding being considered as a solution. Well, at least locally. 


This blog post tells a story about what is the relationship between wolves, bears, rewilding, and buzzwords.  

"...rewilding is about wholeness, it’s not about individual species, it’s not about fragments, […], it’s about the way the ecological engine functions."

Peter Cairns, Scotland: The BIG Picture Tweet

Wolves and bears are only a small part of rewilding.

But I don’t necessarily lobby for wolves and bears. In my understanding, rewilding goes way beyond wolves and bears. It is far more about actually letting nature recover, restore, or even regenerate. So it’s more about ‘re-wilding ourselves’.


Rewilding in a way that we allow for imagining ourselves, humans, as a part of nature. And what more, we can benefit from the restored relationship we have with it.


That’s why I often respond with a question: “do you think a wolf or a bear would be happy in an empty spruce monoculture forest?”, which are so pervasive here in central Europe. 


So, when we talk about the need to radically rewild the world, we mean it. But on a different level be it with or without wolves. We need a fundamental change in how we treat our lands; forests, grasslands, biodiversity, and even cities. In the end, that doesn’t seem that radical, does it? 


Rewilding offers ecological solutions to resolve many aspects of the environmental crises we are currently dealing with. For instance, it can tackle drought, land degradation, public indifference to nature, and in the long run even carbon capture. Therefore, it is a philosophy that offers effective solutions to the climate crisis. 


But what is it that wolves and bears just stick better when we talk of rewilding? Let’s create an imaginary persona and look at the problem from his perspective:

Meet Dave

Meet Dave

Dave is 58 and comes from the Austrian Alps, where he owns a big portion of land with a spruce forest.

He is a man of his words, a bighearted guy, and loyal to his local community.

Dave runs an international sheep trade organization, so he speaks English well. Despite his age, he is also very active on social media. But he doesn’t know anything about rewilding. He co-founded an organization that lobbies against wolves and bears in the Austrian mountains.

Dave backs up his local community with the claim that local mountain pastures are not wilderness. That’s why where he’s from, people believe that wolves, bears, and other predators don’t belong there. In his eyes, wolves and bears are not only dangerous for sheep, but also for the local citizens enjoying their leisure time in nature. Mountain pastures are cultural landscape heritage, which thanks to the efforts of the local communities, have been predator-free for decades.

Idyllic as it sounds, the recent years have, however, brought extreme weather events that resulted in a lot of damage to Dave’s forest beneath the mountain pastures. Extensive summer droughts with the combination of mountain storms weaken the trees and make them snap like a twig in the strong wind gusts. Dave is not happy.

Then there are organizations from outside the local community claiming the pastures and forests simply don’t have enough biodiversity to sustain themselves. That’s the same organizations that push for the protection of wolves and bears, which frustrates Dave. It took years to establish the local cultural landscape and now people from the outside want to change it…

Trophic rewilding - reintroducing wolves

Buzzwords that media like, but is it helping?

It’s Monday morning and Dave logs in to his LinkedIn profile to catch up with his network.

But he notices that somebody from his network has shared a post about “…how bringing back wolves…can help Scotland…”. 

He is not amused.

Although curious, Dave doesn’t even bother opening the post and misses out on the opportunity to learn about the potential of rewilding. 



Peter Cairns, the founder of Scotland: The BIG Picture, talks about rewilding on the Irish Tech News Podcast. 


The title of the episode is called ‘Why Rewilding helps us AND nature too, how bringing back wolves, lynx, beavers and more can help Scotland and Ireland’.


By listening just 3 minutes in, Peter manages to sum up what rewilding is and why it is not only about the charismatic species. 


They make a good headline, but “rewilding is about wholeness, it’s not about individual species, it’s not about fragments, …, it’s about the way the ecological engine functions”.


But Dave never got to hear about this. Appalled by the fact that someone justifies the return of wolves puts him off even clicking on the link to the podcast. 

But what if Dave clicked?

The next day, Dave logs into his LinkedIn account again. To his surprise, he sees that some of the other connections that he knows through the sheep trade from Scotland liked the podcast with Peter Cairns. 


His cognitive dissonance doesn’t let him sit still. He



But he only clicked because a person he collaborated with clicked too. And that is the closest he gets to learn about rewilding. 


However, with the idea in mind that it is all about

‘wolves and bears’ wrapped in a nice story about how all species matter and how that is helpful, he doesn’t allow himself to learn. He bounces (drops out)

after 2 minutes in.


So he doesn’t understand. But he was not made to

understand already since yesterday when the LinkedIn algorithm somehow thought

it would be relevant for him.  


A lesson for rewilding communication online, therefore, is: understand (non-rewilders) before trying to be understood.

What about the solutions rewilding promises?

Rewilding takes the wholeness of ecological restoration into account. The pains that Dave and his community experience could be addressed through practices that are inspired by rewilding. Rewilding offers a wide variety of nature-based solutions that don’t only revolve around charismatic species such as wolves and bears.


In Dave’s case, concepts for rewilding the local forests to better capture and store water in the landscape and help Dave make his forest more resilient could be just the beginning. (Re-)introducing plant or animal species can restore the functionality of the local ecosystem and help it cope with the increasing extreme weather events. 


It is, therefore, thought-provoking to explore the

different vocabulary each of us knows rewilding through. Here, images or mentions of wolves and bears create the buzz. But with the idea of rewilding the world, this imagery speaks more to the people that are in favor of actually rewilding the world. 



But if you managed to read all the way here without any prior knowledge of rewilding, let me sincerely welcome you to the rewilding world. It is a world of ecological imagination that in a non-judgemental way aligns people back with nature, hence rewilding. 


Read Rewild the world to learn more about different kinds of rewilding or how rewilding and tourism can benefit from each other.