An environmental historian delves into the history, science, and philosophy of a paradoxical pursuit: the century-old quest to design natural places and create wild species.
Environmental restoration is a global pursuit and a major political concern. Governments, nonprofits, private corporations, and other institutions spend billions of dollars each year to remove invasive species, build wetlands, and reintroduce species driven from their habitats. But restoration has not always been so intensively practiced. It began as the pastime of a few wildflower enthusiasts and the first practitioners of the new scientific discipline of ecology.
Restoration has been a touchstone of United States environmentalism since the beginning of the twentieth century. Diverging from popular ideas about preservation, which romanticized nature as an Eden to be left untouched by human hands, and conservation, the managed use of natural resources, restoration emerged as a "third way". Restorationists grappled with the deepest puzzles of human care for life on earth: How to intervene in nature for nature's own sake? What are the natural baselines that humans should aim to restore? Is it possible to design nature without destroying wildness? Laura J. Martin shows how, over time, amateur and professional ecologists, interest groups, and government agencies coalesced around a mode of environmental management that sought to respect the world-making, and even the decision-making, of other species. At the same time, restoration science reshaped material environments in ways that powerfully influenced what we understand the wild to be.
In Wild by Design, restoration's past provides vital knowledge for climate change policy. But Martin also offers something more – a meditation on what it means to be wild and a call for ecological restoration that is socially just.
Introduction: Cultivating Wildness
I. Reservations, 1900–1945
1. Uncle Sam’s Reservations
2. Ecology in the Public Service
3. An Outdoor Laboratory
II. Recovery, 1945–1970
4. Atoms for Ecology
5. The Specter of Irreversible Change
III. Regulation, 1970–2010
6. Extinct Is Forever
7. The Mood of Wild America
8. An Ecological Tomorrowland
Epilogue: Designing the Future
Laura J. Martin is Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies at Williams College. She is a past fellow of the American Council of Learned Societies, the Stanford Humanities Center, and the Harvard University Center for the Environment. She has written for Scientific American, Slate, Environmental History, Environmental Humanities, Trends in Ecology and Evolution, and other publications.
"A comprehensive history of the practice of 'ecological restoration,' or human assistance in recovering a damaged world. Martin both eschews blanket optimism and refuses to fall victim to doomsday cynicism around climate change. By examining the precedents for restorative ecology, she illuminates how the development of the field influences contemporary practices, and how ghosts from the historical record haunt our ecological future [...] Its historical contributions alone [...] mark Wild by Design as a major achievement."
– Celeste Pepitone-Nahas, Ancillary Review of Books
"Explores fundamental questions at the intersection of the sciences and humanities [...] A century of well-intended environmental management has been sullied by pseudoscience, racism, greed, and shocking blunders. Martin's erudite perspective on these complexities shines throughout her incisive first book [...] Aldo Leopold, a pioneering restoration ecologist, wrote in 1938 that 'the oldest task in human history [is] to live on a piece of land without spoiling it.' As Laura Martin's astute book illuminates, that task has never been more urgent."
– Julie Dunlap, Washington Independent Review of Books
"Can we repair the ecological damage that we've done? As Laura Martin observes, no question today could be more pressing, or more uncertain. Wild by Design is a fascinating book – far-reaching, deeply researched, and probing."
– Elizabeth Kolbert, author of Under a White Sky: The Nature of the Future
"This is a superb book. Laura Martin's research takes us where no restoration literature has gone before, asking, 'Who gets to decide where and how wildlife management occurs?' Martin tackles this question with unmatched clarity and insight, illuminating the crucial discussions we must have to secure a future with thriving natural species and spaces."
– Peter Kareiva, President and CEO, Aquarium of the Pacific
"A brilliant intervention in the history of conservation that charts changes in ecological understanding of how landscapes rebound from disaster. In following the roots of restoration ecology, Martin explores how naturalness can be cultivated rather than found, providing us with seeds of hope in an age of climate despair."
– Erika Lorraine Milam, author of Creatures of Cain: The Hunt for Human Nature in Cold War America
"What does it mean to care for a wild species? In this provocative and fascinating book, Laura Martin grapples with this question by examining the boundaries of human intervention and wildness. As we face a rapidly changing planet, Martin's clear-sighted, intelligent analysis offers hope that by recognizing the complex history of restoration, we can make way for its promising future."
– Nancy Langston, author of Climate Ghosts