Through land protection and education, Wilder Waters is reviving the ancient tradition of reciprocal conservation.
Throughout the world, indigenous people have developed, over a long period of residing in their place, a collection of skills and practices that have allowed them to live sustainably.
These techniques that prevent over-harvest of resources are part of what is referred to as Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK). One of the prime themes of TEK is that humans are part of the natural community within which they reside.
Seen from this perspective, they have a responsibility to act in a manner that has long-term benefit to all life involved.
As such, they have developed various practices (e.g., harvest volumes, timing of harvests, selection of parts harvested, propagation methods) that protect against resource loss and local extinctions. The value of this system of resource protection, what we deem "reciprocal conservation", is that people continue to use the resources in question, which provides constant reminder of how important the resources are.
Without such interaction, people lose sight of the value of nature and begin to consider it optional or, even worse, unnecessary.
In fact, Soga and Gaston (2016) recently published a paper explaining this phenomenon of people experiencing less direct interaction with nature, which causes a feedback loop of even fewer interactions and further apathy toward nature:
Reciprocal conservation, as seen through the lens of Traditional Ecological Knowledge, is perhaps best understood through an example:
Anderson (2005) described a relationship between the California Native and wavy-leaved soap-root, where the indigenous people harvested the bulbs of this species for food and other uses. Despite the fact that bulb harvest is lethal to the plant, the California Natives were able to increase populations of this species through using TEK.
Practices such as replanting the root crown found on the lower portion of the bulb, harvesting bulbs when seeds were present so that they could be sown into the tilled ground, and providing a rest period where harvest would not occur until plants had reached reproductive age, allowed humans to both gather food and benefit the food plant.
Such interactions demonstrate that reciprocal conservation can support wildlife populations and maintain interest in natural resources.
Many examples of this kind of interaction (i.e., this kind of conservation) are available from people living everywhere.
One example in which Wilder Waters Community practices reciprocal conservation is by harvesting wild food.
A human community lives on the land trust that the nonprofit organization is acquiring and these humans harvest acorns from the northern red oak trees and after some processing turn the acorn into mild tasting flour.
The human community values the large northern red oaks because the abundance of nutrient-dense food they produce and because of this, the humans will leave the northern red oaks standing in the forest for generations.
In turn, this also benefits all of the other life utilizing the northern red oak: the turkeys that eat the acorns, the larvae that hide under the bark, the birds that eat the larvae, the plants that grow in the shade of the oaks, the fungi that will grow on the massive decaying bodies of the trees’, and so on.
Utilizing these resources (trees) as a nutritious food creates an unprecedented level of protection for their habitat.
Wilder Waters Community is purchasing and protecting a large swath of undeveloped forestland in central Maine and showcasing reciprocal conservation, otherwise referred to as conservation through use, to the rest of the world.
We refer to this as the Wilder Waters Re-integration Project, in which we re-integrate humans into the natural world.
We are specifically interested in protecting over 2,000 acres in Canton, Maine (shown in map) using the principles of reciprocal conservation because:
- It is one of the largest swaths of undeveloped land north of the urban centers of Lewiston and Auburn, a major metropolitan area in Maine. Nearly all of the northeast's temperate forests are under assault by logging operations; old growth temperate forests are exceedingly rare. This piece of land is a last remaining gem of Maine and it must be protected.
- This land is a wildlife corridor and home of bobcat, deer, bear, grouse, moose, great blue heron, barred owl, coyote, fisher, marten, brook trout, and numerous other species.
- This swath of land is within two miles of a former indigenous settlement, located next to large, productive foraging sites that were tended by the indigenous of this area for generations.
- This land is home to Childs Brook, a tributary of the Androscoggin River and source of clean drinking water.
- The humans residing on this land are knowledgeable of this eco-region, a critical part to practicing this method of conservation.
A small human community resides on a couple of acres within this re-integration project.
This human community residing near to over 2,000 acres of undeveloped forests is a living example of how humans can healthily interact on a daily basis with their ecosystem.
Visitors come from all around the country to witness this example of reciprocal conservation and attend one of Wilder Water's events.
Wilder waters tends to these wild gardens like our ancestors did in the past, creating old growth forests for future generations of all life to continue to thrive.