I find this conversation very interesting. I have been working on saving the boreal woodland caribou in Canada from local extinction and the main problem is that industrial activity is slowly fragmenting boreal caribou habitat, which is shifting predator/prey dynamics and resulting in a decline in the species. Climate change will likely have a similar impact, while also shifting the ranges of deer further north, further shifting the predator/prey dynamics in a manner that will stress boreal caribou.
This leads me to a few thoughts:
- a) even if we could bring boreal caribou back after they have been made extinct, will we also make the investment (be able to make the investment) in having the landscapes to support them? Or are we just planning to have them in a zoo? If the later, I think we largely are missing the point of seeking to maintain biodiversity and these large landscapes with more minimal human footprint.
- b) Given the many environmental challenges we face today, pointing to potential extinction gives urgency (sometimes legislated through species-at-risk acts, etc.) to the task of conserving these species. Would thinking about bringing species back from complete extinction derail already slow processes to conserve the species we have on the planet today?
- c) the wolves in Yellowstone for me is a slightly different question than that of bringing back the mammoth. It is about reintroducing a species that is thriving in many parts of N. America into habitat that is still viable. For some of these species, the answers will be much more difficult.
It seems we need to think long and hard as a community about what we really want to accomplish. Positive thinking and hope is a wonderful thing, but it seems like focusing on bringing species back may be a bit of a red herring in some situations.