Emma Marris

Rambunctious Garden: Saving Nature in Post Wild World (Ch 1)


1.      Idea that nature = pristine wilderness

         a.      Nature, out there, far away

         b.      Distant, free, and wild

         c.      No people, roads, fences, power lines

         d.      Untouched by humanity’s “great grubby hands”

         e.      Unchanging (except for change of seasons)

2.      Thinking of nature as pristine wilderness is problematic

         a.      For example, it blinds us from seeing diversity of nature beyond wilderness

         b.      But also troubling in many other ways

3.      Many conservationists spend lives trying to stop wilderness from changing

         a.      Trying to protect “virgin old growth forests,” “intact ecosystems”

         b.      But as fewer and fewer of them, we morn their loss

         c.      Can’t make more such places...

                   i.       Is “rewilding” making more such places?

4.      Goal of wild nature protection to keep it from changing? (No)

         a.      Freeze framing nature

                   i.       Keep Yellowstone like it was in 1492?

                   ii.      Many U.S. National parks managed to look like the did in colonial days, and this means mangers focus on stopping things from changing”

                   iii.     Some conservationists revere particular historic ES almost religiously

                   iv.     This is like Jordan’s protect/restore classic ecosystems idea

         b.      Alternate, perhaps better goal of wild nature protection: Let natural processes unfold on their own

                   i.       This is immune to the criticism that wilderness protection ignores that nature is in flux, constantly changing


5.      Marris idea of nature: Nature is everywhere

         a.      Backyard birds, pine plantations, overgrown fields, “invasive” species dominated ecosystem, landscaped garden, green roof, highway median

6.      Nature is not pristine: No pristine wilderness on this planet

         a.      Humans been changing landscapes for thousands of years

                   i.       With fire, hunting, agriculture

         b.      Today our reach is global: Global pollution, climate change, species movements, large-scale land transformation

7.      No going back

         a.      Is this a political prediction or a conceptual claim?

         b.      Pristine means untouched by humans, totally “virgin”:

                   i.       Note that this metaphor suggest that like losing one’s virginity, nature can never be pure again once touched by the “hand of man”

         c.      But can’t “humanization” wash out over time?

         d.      Why isn’t rewilding going back?

8.      We are already running whole Earth, whether admit it or not

         a.      We should run it consciously and effectively

         b.      How so?

                   i.       Our impacts on earth are huge and for the most part unplanned/unintended

                   ii.      We aren’t going to stop having a huge impact

                   iii.     So it would be better if we consciously and intentionally had this impact and made sure it was the kind of impact we think is proper

         c.      Examples

                   i.       We are changing climate (unintentionally), we should geo-engineer the climate

                   ii.      “Where trees grow is pretty much determined by us and so we should plan this out.”                           


9.      Nature as “global, half-wild rambunctious garden, tended by us”

         a.      Note the garden metaphor, though it is an unruly garden, not fully under out control

10.    This sense of nature allows us to “create more and more nature as we go”

         a.      If nature need not be pristine (untouched by humans), then we can create more nature

         b.      How?

                   i.       Novel ecosystems (old farm fields coming back to forests, a “new” ecosystem as a result of human introductions like on Hawaii

                   ii.       Gardens, flowers, parks on top of old landfills?

                   iii.     Biotechnology?


11.    Alternative nature protection goals instead of (in addition to?) protecting pristine wilderness:

         a.      There could be lots of conservation goals (nature protection goals) beyond the familiar preserve “pristine wilderness” goal

         b.      Yet the notion of a stable, pristine wilderness as the ideal for every landscape is woven into the culture of ecology and conservation

12.    (1) Value/protect process of evolution

         a.      Even when non-native species involved

         b.      Even value non-native, exotic species

         c.      Marris: “We can cherish evolution in action even if all the species struggling for existence aren't "native."

         d.      Examples

                   i.       Value how native species evolve to try to survive the onslaught of Kudzu or how the Kudzu evolve to adapt to local landscape

                   ii.      Value how Chinese Tallow (Popcorn tree) or Mimosas Trees adapt to barrier island of S.C.

                   iii.     Evolution as trees return to abandoned farmlands

13.    Value nature for its ecosystem services to humanity

         a.      Marris: “Protect ecological process like soil formation and water filtration that benefit us”

         b.      Example: Protect wetlands from development

14.    Protect biodiversity, even if this involves “managed relocation

         a.      “We can marvel at the diversity of life and fight its disappearance, even if that diversity occurs in unfamiliar places.”

         b.      Example: Endangered at home, thriving other places

                   i.       “Some exotic animal species that are endangered in Africa are thriving on ranches in Texas, where a limited number are hunted for a high price. For video story, click here

                   ii.      Support for Pleistocene rewilding, in principle?

15.     Value humanized natural beauty

         a.      Marris: “We can find beauty in nature, even if signs of humanity are present.”

         b.      Examples: Graffiti on rocks, drones flying in national parks, Numbered California condors with kidney dialysis, Austrian mountains with village

16.    Sublime in back yard (?)

         a.      Marris: “We can see the sublime in our own backyards, if we try.”

         b.      Sublime: Great things in nature night sky, huge waterfalls, great thunder and lightning storms, wide, deep canyons; Things of great size/power/height, thing in question is “high and lofty”, vastness and tremendous power of sublime; involves edgy, risky feeling. Things greatness makes us feel overwhelmed, somewhat anxious, small, and insignificant in comparison

         c.      Examples: Avalanche Lightening

         d.      Is it really appropriate to seek the sublime in nature in one’s own back yard? Natural beauty yes, but the sublime?

17.    Argues for multiple goals in well rounded nature protection program

         a.      Avoid extinctions, but if that’s all we do, end up with zoo like world tended by man where species live separate from es in which evolved

         b.      Focus only on what ES do for humans, ignore all the other species and ecosystems that don’t help us

         c.      So protecting nature should involve all these goals and not focus just on one

                   i.       Does Marris allow that one of the goals should be to preserve pristine ecosystems? Preserve classic ecosystems? Let nature be self-willed in some areas?


18.    Baseline problem: From which to determine change or to which we should restore; goal of a nature protection strategy

19.    Alternative baselines

         a.      Before Europeans arrived?

         b.      Before any humans arrived

         c.      Hawaii example: Before Captain Cook (1770)? Before Polynesians (1000 years earlier)

         d.      Before we messed it up (who is we?)

                   i.       Healing a wounded or sick nature

                   ii.      We broke it and should fix it

20.    Problems with restoration to a baseline

21.    Problem: Restoring a landscape to earlier baseline can be very heavy handed

         a.      Remove some species, reintroduce others

         b.      Engineer rivers, build islands, kill trees

         c.      Hawaiin and Australian examples (see below)

22.    Problem: If we go back thousands of years before human’s arrived, since nature in constant flux, which baseline do we choose?

23.    Problem: Don’t always know what places were like earlier

24.    Problem: Impossible to achieve the earlier baseline

         a.      Humans so stirred global pot (moving species around), raised temperature, driven species extinct

         b.      Undoing all these changes just about impossible.


25.    Description of ecology on Hawaii

         a.      Lush tropical plants, gorgeous

         b.      Many of these plants a threat to native species

         c.      Extinction capital of the world

         d.      Biggest ecological catastrophe in U.S.

         e.      Many conservationist trying to recreate what once was

         f.       Half plants are non-native

         g.      Invaders prevalent and harmful to natives on Hawaii as Hawaiian plants/birds/animals having been isolated for 30 million years–grow slowly and use resources less efficiently than continental plants/species that evolved with more competition

                   i.       Helpless against introduced diseases

                   ii.      Used to be no mosquitos on Hawaii, and so avian malaria wiped out at least 10 bird species and threatens many more

         h.      Such mellow Hawaiian species are pushovers for the scrappier mainland species that humans brought to the islands

                   i.       Raspberries and roses lost thorns (as no plant eating animals to fend off)

                   ii.      Hawaiian mints lost their minty defense chemicals

         i.       Cosmopolitan forest (plants from Mexico, Columbia, Philippines, Brazil) which is green and dense

                   i.       “A jungle of foliage from everywhere: trumpet tree with its huge star-shaped leaves, a native of Mexico, Central America, and Colombia; bingabing, a small tree with big parasol-like leaves, from the Philippines; tasty strawberry guava, from the Atlantic Coast of Brazil; purple-flowered Asian melastome; "Koster's curse," a little shrub originally from Mexico and parts of South America; and albizia, another immigrant from Southeast Asia”

                   ii.      Restored forest, plants wide apart, half vegetation ripped out

                   iii.     Marris: “As a result, the plots look a bit sad and empty, like someone's living room in the middle of a move-out.”

                   iv.     Could native Hawaiian forest bounce back if exotics removed

                   v.      Results disappointing

         j.       What conservationists would love to do with huge swaths of planet

                   i.       Rip out introduced species and make room for natives and return to baseline goal

26.    Description of Scotia reserve in Australia

         a.      Example of fenced in area to protect endangered marsupials

                   i.       Woylies, boodies, numbats, bilbies, and wallabies

         b.      Threatened by cats and foxes, introduced as pets and for hunting

         c.      Also by goats and rabbits

                   i.       All of whom were killed off in this fenced area

                   ii.      Rabbits controlled with poisoned carrots

         d.      Conservationists to keep this simulacrum (=imitation) of 1770, must shoot, poison, trap, fence and watch forever lest excluded species get back

                   i.       Calls it an imitation of 1770, but its also preserving endangered animals.

         e.      All it is is a “defacto zoo”

         f.       But need such fenced in land if want to avoid extinctions

27.    Managing to avoid extinctions is doable and is different from managing to recreate some earlier baseline.

         a.      For its compatible with a very different habitat....


28.    Historically faithful ecosystems are not good examples of pristine wildernesses as they are necessarily heavily managed

         a.      If wild means un-managed, ecosystems that look most “pristine” (historically untouched) are least wild

29.    Pristine (historical) ecosystems require perpetual management

         a.      If the goal is getting back “pristine ecosystems” (as that is all that is to count as nature), then need perpetual weeding (management) or you will fail

30.    If by pristine ecosystem, you mean a “self-willed” ecosystem where nature, not humans, determines what happens, then no, you don’t need/want management.

31.    Instead of focusing on the past (returning to an unobtainable baseline), we should look to future, and ask ourselves what we they’d like to look at

         a.      Make natural areas as we want them to be.......

         b.      Humans determine the nature of the planet?

         c.      Alternative vision: Let nature decide


32.    Positive characterization of “novel ecosystems”

         a.      Ecosystem influenced by non-native species and other human influences

         b.      These ecosystems are the future:

                   i.       Marris/Mascaro “Like it or not these ecosystems going to be driving most natural processes on earth.”

         c.      Some casualties: local extinctions and some ecosystem types will evaporate

         d.      But the resulting ecosystems won’t be worthless just because changed

                   i.       Store carbon in trees, habitat for species, aesthetically rich

         e.      Plants and animals interacting in new ways

33.    Calls it “faith” that native ES better than changed ES: “The cult of pristine wilderness

         a.      Unquestioned assumption that any human change to nature is “degradation

                   i.       If you focus on wildness value, it is. In that respect it is a degradation, though it might enhance value in other ways (say make it more useful to humans)

Questions on Marris’ Rambunctious Garden

1.         Explain the idea that nature = pristine wilderness and why Marris thinks this is problematic. What is Marris’ alternative idea of nature?

2.         What is wrong with the idea that protecting wild nature means preventing it from changing?

3.         Explain the difference between protecting “classic ecosystems” and protecting natural processes?

4.         Why does Marris say there is “no going back?” Going back to what? Is rewilding going back?

5.         Are humans running the whole earth? Should we run it consciously and effectively?

6.         Does Marris think of nature on earth as a “garden?” What kind of garden?

7.         Why does Marris think we can “create more and more nature.” Can we?

8.         Describe the alternative nature protection goals that Marris identifies instead of the goal of protecting pristine wilderness.

9.         Does it make sense to “cherish evolution” in a forest overrun by kudzu? In an abandoned farm field where a forest (of native? or non-native species) is growing?

10.       Is preserving biodiversity/species in places they did not exist before a legitimate conservation exercise? (African lions in Texas?)

11.       Do signs of humanity spoil our appreciation of natural beauty? Should they?

12.       What is the “sublime?” Can we find it in our backyards?

13.       What is the baseline problem? What are some alternative baselines? What are some of the problems returning an area to a baseline?

14.       Why is Hawaii sometimes called the “extinction capital of the world?” Why are Hawaiian native biota so often easily overrun by non-natives? Why might some think Hawaii nature is severely degraded? Why might someone deny this? What does it mean to say that Hawaiian nature is “cosmopolitan.”

15.       Why are Australian marsupials endangered and what is being done to protect them?

16.       Should humans decide what nature will look like on earth in the future? Is there an alternative?

17.       What is a “novel ecosystem?” Are they valuable? In what way yes? In what way no?

18.       Is it rational to think a native ecosystem is better than an (human) changed ecosystem? Should we assume that a human change to nature is necessarily “degradation?” Explain.