...Colonizing humans transferring species into bioregions, exponentially fragmenting and degrading interconnected assemblages, has left many hard decisions on how to halt their overpowering impact and revive a lifeway embedded in wild. In Beyond the War, Tao Orion, a permaculture design teacher and farmer degreed in agroecology and sustainable agriculture, proposes a strategy to include invasive species based on permaculture principles. Seeing restoration practices as untenable and ineffective, she promotes utilizing invasive plants for uses such as compost, medicine, farm animal feed, and human food. Without knowing how invasives will impact nature in the future, she proposes taking a leap of faith in moving forward into the unknown with inventiveness and tools to create a new thriving of shifting biotic collections for human sustenance. She believes that humans worry too much that some introduced species ‘appear’ to overtake native communities forever altering ecosystems, threatening not only existence of individual species but intact bioregions and global biodiversity. To her, permaculture offers a way to incorporate nonnative invasives through revamping the root cause of ecological destruction: routines of humans’ everyday consumptions, or she’d reframe as productions.
On the podcast Ancestral Health Radio self-described “ancestral health coach, rewilding advocate, and 21st-century hunter-gatherer-gardener” James Broderick interviews Tao.5 Some of their topics include supplementing chicken feed with grains for egg production, buying land for homesteading, vegetable gardening and animal husbandry products. In suggesting people dig up noxious knotweed to use the root for medicinal purposes, the lack of depth of Tao’s awareness of plant behavior is revealed when she neglects to caution that any 4” cutting of this plant landing on soil can re-root expanding the habitat invasion, cascading into suffocating aquatic life like juvenile salmon.6 Acknowledging that there’s not enough wild game to support hunting, her theme is on creating an agricultural society where humans acquire enough land to support their diet. It is clear that Tao’s permaculture homesteading is intended as the anthropocentric endpoint, not a feasible transition toward a rewilded human embedded in rewilded Earth. Akin to how Leirre Keith’s The Vegetarian Myth: Food, Justice and Sustainability7 failed in logic for carnists’ leap of faith out of speciesism, so to Tao Orion fails in logic for permaculturists’ leap of faith out of human supremacy.
Tao’s minimizing the concern over civilization’s introduced species’ impact on wilderness resilience is reckless and uninformed. 8, 9 Essential truths are misconstrued and ignored such as 1. Many indigenous animals depend on indigenous plants to thrive, for example, wildlife are generally not adapted to eat introduced plant foliage 10 2. Indigenous plants and animals have co-adapted in intricate and complex ways with defense mechanisms to establish balance,11, 12, 13 3. Docile nonindigenous plants and animals can become invasive as conditions change,14, 15, 16 4. Alien plants beget alien animals up the food chain, exponentially expanding competition with native species,17 and 5. Hybridization of introduced species with natives has subtler but insidious impact contributing to decline and extinction of native species.18 Only folly would refute that introduced invasive plants and animals degrade indigenous habitat sparking spirals of vulnerability for other nonnatives to move in.
While fair to critique restoration ecology, it’s unreasonable to dismiss and re-apply it with blatant bias. For example, coevolution is dismissed if it explains species’ community interconnectedness, and how some introduced species wreak ecological havoc, but is given credence when convenient in backing her nonnative integration ideal. Yes, species shift their ranges, but it’s on their own terms, usually slowly, sometimes quickly and rarely with enough aggressiveness to destabilize robust diverse communities. Yes there are natural mass changes such as volcanoes where waves of species colonize the disturbed space in succession. But Tao seems unaware that domesticated humans shuffling species about, out of and into various habitats at a spiraling rate, outpaces ecological dynamics.
While Tao’s criticism of herbicides is a popular and valid critique, she fails to dig deep enough in addressing the root cause of wilderness devastation: anthropocentric command over nature.19 The hollowness of her ideas is revealed in what she does not contemplate. For example, instead of using herbicides as pretext to cultivate nonindigenous species, rewilding permaculturists could collaborate on nonnative species control through targeted harvesting for the goal of recovering indigenous habitat. Top priorities could go to removing small patches of new nonnatives before they spread,20 and species with excessive advantages over others outside their indigenous habitat (e.g. allelopathic properties) such as Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata). Strategies could include awareness of risks of harvesting plants that for example spread vegetatively from segments left on soil, like notorious vegetative propagator Japanese Knotweed (Polygonum cuspidatum).
Regarding indigenous plants behaving invasively, in remnant wild communities, herbivory plays a crucial role in limiting rampancy. If indigenous herbivores are no longer playing that ecological role because they are waning under civilization, then rewilding permaculturists could either give indigenous animals back their habitat, or if that’s not possible replicate the function. However take caution, substitutes such as cattle for bison degrade the system further.21, 22 Addressing ethos directly, intercepting human domination by restoring indigenous ecosystems could take the form of honing and collaborate on more gentle, responsive approaches timed with natural rhythms, such as the Bradley Method.23
While living within the local natural environment is key to rewilding, using that setting to rationalize craftily introducing, maintaining or propagating nonnative species that risk escaping into and degrading other areas is more of the same dominating doctrine. Civilized humans have so rapidly introduced species that most wildernesses have succumbed to fundamental permanent losses leaving skeletons of themselves as sitting targets vulnerable to ever increasing invasion. The problem of civilization cannot be resolved with a more appealing version of civilization that alleviates fears of sustenance in preparation to survive societal collapse. Returning habitat and setting it free from civilization overcomes humans’ domesticating ethos.
While Tao points to native people wild tending and the notion that nativity is not a fixed state to promote permaculture, (pgs. 148-50) indigenous people are connected members of indigenous habitats, something permaculture cannot replicate. Primal biocommunities emerge and transform their characteristics, relationships and ranges, on their own terms. For permaculture to attempt to co-opt wild tending is the epitome of supremacy. A more respectful and cautious ally approach would be for permaculture to invite and assist native food plants supporting members of local native ecosystems, encouraging resistance to civilization’s introduced invasives. Incorporating invading colonizing plants reflects an invading colonizing ethos where colonizer preferences take precedence over indigenous habitat needs. Permaculture reasoning exposes domination culture and power positioning used to willfully ignore or justify human supremacist control over others.
Tao’s book is swimming in human supremacy bias with faulty oversimplified reasoning. She brews an impassioned tincture of logical and illogical thinking and proposals based on valid and invalid criticisms. She makes claims of an invasive species’ benefits while neglecting to mention more significant massive detriments. She bases colonial misbalanced ‘biodiversity’ on indigenous people’s wild tended habitats without seeing the difference. A fallacious book like this can be dangerous for indigenous life if accepted by well-intended humans lacking fuller understanding on how to assist an injured place to return its vitality, much less embed within it.
Primal Empathetic Rewilding
For eons since origins humans like all animals found their food and medicines based solely on instincts and primal senses.24 Science is less about increasing this kind of primitive awareness and more about rationalizing domineering manipulation reflective of a supreme human within contrived hierarchal power structures. A keen eye is needed to sift through civilization bias. If the only egalitarian way for humans to live wild is located at wild tending or earlier, how will humans undo what they can of domestication’s impact on wilderness during transition toward post-civ? How can humans shift the locus of control back to wilderness as they adapt into ecologically contributory roles?
Humans across the wild-civilized spectrum on some level intuit intensifying globalization pressures lunging toward a boiling point. Introducing plants and animals began with agriculture for settling lands and grazing domesticated animals for human colonization of new lands.25 While behavior change from introduction to invasion can be delayed, once introduced into homeostatic habitats nonindigenous species can outcompete, eat, infect and hybridize with indigenous species, exponentially impacting flora and fauna. This harm is often compounded by overarching dynamics such as climate change.26 Even with civilization’s science confirming ecosystems everywhere are degrading and collapsing under human linked invasions, tamed humanway cannot begin to envision renouncing its terra-conqueror thrown. Nor is permaculture, however charming and benevolent, relinquishing humans’ peculiar omnipotence over nonhuman others.
There are endless unintended consequences of domesticated humans rearranging species about on domestication’s terms. Introduced, domesticated and wild species are all puppets and victims of colonizing, predatory human folly. With palpable ignorance of primal ways, the best domesticated humans can do is attempt to undo what they can of the harm domestication has done. Domesticated humans liberate themselves and others by re-engaging with wilderness in a recompensing liberation ethos of de-colonizing restoration, such as returning indigenous plants co-adapted to a site and freeing them to naturally evolve over time. “If we garden with native plants that form living communities… we begin to cross-pollinate again. We begin to learn to speak languages we’ve forgotten. We mend. We bind.”27 With ecological dynamics returned species will reestablish their niches and spread seed until they settle into spots with others they remember and prefer, rekindling thriving resilience.28 But continuing to promote architecting the world around humans only emboldens domestication’s menace.
To be anti-civ comes from primal pain of deep losses and resolve for restoration. Untamed Carol is a wild warrior whose personal story is the story of wildness under siege, and a plea for humans to let go of civilization’s primacies, to become deeply aware of indigenous life around them, to take action to assist wild recovery. To be rewilding human in transition times is not preparing oneself to live through changing conditions. Instincts will manifest sustenance in the moment, tis the way of the nomad. Accepting wild fate is the cost of free living. To rewild away from colonizing lifeway is to rejoin the primal force through action based on innate empathy, tending to wilderness not for human dominion but simply for wild.
Ria Montana, Forest and Wetland Rewilder