Memory and Reunion

The blue pulse flow of the Colorado River approaches the brown tidal flow of the Gulf of California. Photo: Sonoran Institute

The blue pulse flow of the Colorado River approaches the brown tidal flow of the Gulf of California.
Photo: Sonoran Institute

A few days ago, the Colorado River flowed into the Gulf of California for the first time in twenty years. The pulse flow, a one-time release of water into a stretch of the Colorado River that has been dry for decades, began on World Water Day on March 23. It was estimated by project coordinators at the time that it would take two weeks for the pulse, which was intended to simulate the annual floodwaters that once irrigated the Colorado river basin and flowed into the Gulf, to reach the Colorado Delta. Sandbars, scrub and underbrush meant it took more like six weeks.

Researchers have been planting trees and seeds in the irrigated areas, aiming to re-establish some of the ecosystem along the non-agricultural branch of the river. Did the delta greet the river as an old friend, and did the river recognize the gulf where it once flowed?

The Colorado River meets the delta and flows into the Gulf of California (15 May 2014) Photo: Francisco Zamora/Sonoran Institute

The Colorado River meets the delta and flows into the Gulf of California (15 May 2014)
Photo: Francisco Zamora/Sonoran Institute

Another reintroduction of old companions took place in the wild Southern Carpathian mountain range in Romania. Seventeen European bison (Bison bonasus), hunted to extinction in the region two centuries ago, were brought in from Sweden, Germany, Switzerland and Italy to begin a rewilding effort. The bison has been making a comeback across Europe, but with around 5000 individuals across several countries, Europe’s largest herbivore is still listed as ‘vulnerable’ on the IUCN Red List.

The hope of organizers Rewilding Europe and WWF-Romania is that the presence of the wild bison will help re-establish biodiversity through grazing and browsing. Over the next few years, several hundred more bison will be brought into the area.

It will be so interesting to see how the land and ecosystems respond to the presence of these long-absent inhabitants of meadow and forest.

Is it possible to reawaken land memories, and memories of land in animals?

European bision (Bison bonasus), also known as wisent Photo: Zimbrii/Rewilding Europe

European bision (Bison bonasus), also known as wisent
Photo: Zimbrii/Rewilding Europe

Unfallowing Fields

Retuertas horses are back enjoying their freedom in western Spain for the first time in 2000 years. Photo: Juan Carlos Muños Robredo / Rewilding Europe

Retuertas horses are back enjoying their freedom in western Spain for the first time in 2000 years.
Photo: Juan Carlos Muños Robredo / Rewilding Europe

There aren’t many good things to say about the economic problems faced by Spain since 2008, with high unemployment and mass company closures.

The amount of farmland being utilized has also receded with the contracting economy, but there’s been an unexpected silver lining.

In areas no longer under cultivation, animal species that were disappearing are beginning to establish themselves with the assistance an initiative known as Rewilding Europe. The group works to reclaim abandoned grazing and farmland, and to create ‘wild nature’ reserves.

Carlos Sanchez, director of the conservation group running the site, was quoted as saying,  “We are recovering the most primitive breeds to try to help manage an ecosystem which has been abandoned due to the disappearance of humans.”

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It is active in a number of countries, but identifies its areas of activity in terms of regional ecosystems rather than national borders. Thus, the five main areas of activity are Western Iberia, the Eastern Carpathians, the Danube Delta, the Southern Carpathians, and the Velebit.

Among the species being reintroduced in Spain are European oxen; the Retuerta, an ancient breed of horse; European vultures (the vast majority of the four surviving vulture species are in Spain); and the Iberian lynx. Rewilding Europe aims to support nature reserves that not only promote the return of wildlife, but create new economic alternatives to industry and agriculture.

Spain’s economy has taken a turn for the better over the past year, but perhaps the land being reclaimed as wild has been abandoned for long enough that there’s no immediate risk of the new nature reserves coming into conflict with farming interests.

Animals, especially large animals and predators, change environments. Given enough time, it will be interesting to see how re-wilding changes local landscapes.

Caballo horse (Equus ferus caballus), Campanarios de Azaba Biological Reserve, Salamanca, Castilla y Leon, Spain Photo: Juan Carlos Muños Robredo / Rewilding Europe

Caballo horse (Equus ferus caballus), Campanarios de Azaba Biological Reserve, Salamanca, Castilla y Leon, Spain
Photo: Juan Carlos Muños Robredo / Rewilding Europe

More: Making Europe A Wilder Place