Success stories are hard to come by in the field of environmentalism. A tale of rewilding and conservation in the Norweigan mountains offers hope for the future.
This year sees the completion of a largescale nature restoration project in Hjerkinn, Norway lead by the Norwegian Defence Estates Agency. Since 2009 the work to bring the area in the Dovre mountains used for military purposes back to its natural state has been ongoing. Across the 165 square kilometer area in question nature is slowly returning, aided by massive efforts from army personnel and machinery.
Over the past decade, military waste and debris have been systematically removed by personnel on foot. Roads and structures have been removed and replanted with local vegetation. Waterways and wetlands are being restored, and wildlife can now safely return to the previously unavailable habitat. The area holds amongst other things populations of wild reindeer, muskox, and arctic fox that will in due time be able to thrive in the rewilded landscape. A truly massive environmental undertaking is coming to an end, and the area is now included in the Dovrefjell Sunndalsfjella national park.
These efforts show that once in a blue moon ecological gains are favored above financial or strategic gains. Hopefully, every time a project like this is completed, it sets a stronger precedent for the future. If we are to build an ecologically sustainable society it only seems like fair use of public funds to reconstruct some of the natural places we once destroyed. It might not bring us the kind of economic growth that is the preferred metric of progress, but ideally, this is a form of progress that should be equally valuable to us.
The lessons from this project can offer inspiration and hope to the people of the world who have seen their mountains or forests destroyed. The inherent possibilities in rewilding are enormous. Nature is fundamentally resilient and given enough care and time it will return to a once barren land. Plantlife will establish itself, and downstream from this wildlife will return. Over a few years, former disrupted areas on land and dead zones at sea can become fully functional ecosystems, and provide more sorely needed biodiversity and ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration. Hope can be found in the fact that sometimes conservation beats exploitation, and that once unsustainably exploited areas can return to former glory if it is just allowed to happen. The human machinery has immense powers. If we can focus more of our capabilities towards reconstruction rather than deconstruction of nature the future could actually become green. A tangible green, not just the kind of abstract green you find in company documents or political speeches.
Rewilding and conservation should be at the forefront of every environmental policy, but it feels like such concepts have taken a backseat in the environmental struggle. It seems more important for many "green shift" proponents to figure out how to make human encroachment on nature CO2 neutral rather than to halt and reverse the physical damage that has already been done to the planet. Restoring and conserving nature should be of equal importance to reducing emissions going forward. I would also argue that the concept of rewilding is low-hanging fruit. It might not be as controversial and difficult to implement as many other environmental policies, but something every environmentalist can agree on is a good idea. All over the world people are engaged in efforts to make eco friendly policies, yet we are loosing more and more of our wild places. It does not have to continue like this, and the rewilding of the Hjerkinn military zone proves that it is sometimes possible to reverse the trend.