By For the Wild Collective
In 2011, Ayana Young, then a Columbia University ecology student, was overwhelmed by climate chaos, mass extinction, and struggling to find a voice. That’s when she got involved with Occupy Wall Street, seeing the protestors in Zuccotti Park taking action. “They put a vocabulary to what I was feeling,” she says. “I was finally part of a community that was talking about the things that I was struggling with for so long.”
This was Young’s initiation into activism and advocacy work. Intentional and passionate, she turned with laser focus towards learning everything she should about deep ecology and the manifold threats that endanger the earth as we know it. The biggest detriment to our earth’s health is human supremacy, which “isn’t looked at nearly enough,” says Young. “Why are humans somehow entitled to all the resources in the world?”
Young’s organization, For the Wild is the result of her fierce advocacy. For The Wild is described as, “a love song to disappearing wild places,” merging restoration and conservation eﬀorts with storytelling and education. There are localized land-based projects, like the 1 Million Redwoods Project (http:// forthewild.world/1-million- redwoods-project/), a boots on the ground, collective eﬀort to renew and protect North America’s Cascadia bioregion from Northern California to south-central Alaska, and there are also compelling media eﬀorts, including the For the Wild podcast (http://forthewild.world/listen/), a weekly broadcast that has come to be known as a platform for critical discourse and coalition-building among people committed to social justice, wilderness conservation, and ecological renewal.
Young, who lives in Northern California, shares with clarity and urgency that now is a time to act to protect the landscapes, the plants, trees, and waterways that we love. She has felt a call to action from the forest, and her work is a response to defend the wilds of the Pacific Northwest.
Her 1 Million Redwoods Project is an initiative to renew and protect the biodiversity and resiliency of the temperate rain forests in Cascadia through holistic research, biomimetic reforestation, land conservation, and nurturing living libraries of native seeds and fungi.
Young began her love aﬀair with the temperate rain forest, as a commercial mushroom hunter, finding herself immersed in diverse forest expanses and witnessing firsthand the devastation wrought by human development, industrial logging, and resource extraction. Over 90 percent of native temperate rain forest has been lost, and what remains is managed heavily for timber production. Through forest immersion, the diﬀerence between the vitality of intact old-growth forests and the lifelessness of monocropped plantation forests became acutely clear. Searching for how best to support these ravaged ecosystems became a heart- song for Young. The idea for the 1 Million Redwoods Project was an inspiration that emerged through spending time listening deeply to the forest. Embodying a whole-systems approach to the 1 Million Redwoods Project, For The Wild is focused on planting a diversity of plant and mycelial species and bolstering reciprocal relationships between species. Recognizing that every ecosystem component, from soil microbe to canopy-dwelling epiphyte, is vital to the health and adaptability of a forest, and aiming to lean in to that.
Young and For The Wild are navigating how to engage in reforestation without following conventional methods that involve resource-intensive extractive practices like irrigation systems and plastic pots derived from fossil fuels, imported soil with ingredients extracted from far corners of the planet, like coconut core, peat moss, glacial rock, and perlite. Likewise, the contemporary model for reforestation of logged land has primarily focused on a small number of profitable species, which are planted to become future timber. This is a factory-farm approach to tree-planting — a commodification of life, with short-term goals in mind. For The Wild is working a diﬀerent approach entirely, asking instead how to support long-term thriving for trees to create biodiversity hot spots and to foster climate resiliency.
For The Wild is committed to a position in opposition to human supremacy and firm in their belief that nature should have the space and opportunity to evolve autonomously. Where they come in is to support and encourage native species to thrive as the climate grows more unpredictable. Influenced by Traditional Ecological Knowledge and learnings from experts in the field, including forest ecologists Peter Wohlleben, Suzanne Simard, and Sally Aitken and biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus, For The Wild is employing a biomimetic approach and experimenting with direct seeding and coating seeds with a mixture of native fungal and bacterial inoculants to build soil integrity and encourage the plant to tap into the existing underground mycelial network.
This resource-sharing mycelial network is a primary focus of For The Wild’s approach to resilient reforestation. Conventional methods, where trees are grown in pots in commercial nurseries for up to three years before being planted out, overlook the importance of the mycelial network. Forests are familial communities, supporting one another. When a tree is grown in isolation in a pot, its roots may have a more diﬃcult time connecting when they are eventually planted. For The Wild isn’t saying that growing in pots never has a place, but it is certainly a resource-intensive process, and arguably it produces less robust trees. Currently, most forests are replanted through commercial nurseries, but For The Wild is learning that biomimicry—the design of systems that are modeled on biological entities and processes—oﬀers a new way of partnering with nature, and they aim to promote interconnectedness and harmony through their work.
Young is particularly concerned about how rising temperatures and decreasing precipitation will impact forests and specifically, the redwood range, which is quite narrow, uniquely cool, and moist, paralleling the thickest regions of the California fog belt. Redwood forests are reliant on coastal fog, which supplies up to 45 percent of the total water used by redwoods and two thirds of the water used by understory species annually. Implications for fog decline could be severe. Habitat ranges are shifting all over the planet. Slow-growing trees, like redwoods, will have a particularly diﬃcult time, as their southern range becomes uninhabitable.
It’s abundantly clear that climate change is real, human- caused, and that we will all be directly aﬀected by it. The wildfires in California are not an anomaly, nor are they restricted to the south. Forests are burning from Southern California all the way up to Alaska, and it’s expected that fires will only escalate. Weather extremes, are quickly becoming the new normal. We can’t deny extractivism, and capitalism play a role in what’s happening, including climate change and the destruction of all forests.
The vast majority of redwood forest is degraded and earmarked for industrial logging, so these forest communities have been suﬀering extensively and by proxy, endangered species, such as the coho salmon, the steelhead trout, the marbled murrelet, and the northern spotted owl, along with whole ecosystems of plant species associated with redwoods, such as the coast fawn lily (Erythronium elegans), are becoming increasingly rare.
Climate change is not only hitting intact, healthy forests but also impacting vulnerable landscapes that have been logged, dammed, developed, mismanaged, and poisoned. The immune systems of these terrains have already experienced significant trauma. Human-centric interaction with the earth is contributing to a rapidly shifting climate in ways that can no longer be denied. Entire nonhuman communities are in deterioration, because all species are very much connected.
Young urges individuals to take action, reminding us, “Wherever you are, somebody is most likely already working to preserve biodiversity. Explore what Indigenous and grassroots groups have been doing in your area.
Reach out and see how you can support them!”
As the project continues to grow, For The Wild is looking to build a mycological and redwood research team to begin designing several experimental research projects, such as test plots and exploring assisted migration, as well as undertaking comprehensive scientific study. Keep in touch, through their newsletter (http://forthewild. world/newsletter), and stay tuned for announcements about land partnership opportunities, seed collection, and planting days.
If you are interested in supporting the 1 Million Redwoods Project, they’re welcoming donations, calling in funds for seed collection and our seed library, scientific research, coordinating land partnerships, and the labor of love it takes to tend seeds and spores of biodiversity. For The Wild is looking to expand their network of land partners in Mendocino County. If you’re looking to restore and conserve your land, or if you are excited about the collection and preservation of seeds and fungi, check out their website (http://forthewild.world) to find out how to get involved for future collaborations.
For The Wild is an anthology of the Anthropocene, focused on land-based protection, co-liberation, and intersectional storytelling rooted in a paradigm shift from human supremacy towards deep ecology.