Thanks for this, dubisaxel.
The Oostvaardersplassen not only challenges this assumption
[about succession leading to forest]
, it proves it wrong. When our ancestors tamed and corralled mammals such as cattle and horses and killed off larger ones, such as the mammoth that meant that, sure enough, where man did not intervene then forest took over. So succession is more or less a result of human intervention.
I'd be interested to hear peoples' views on this. The end assertion seems contentious to me. In fact it doesn't make much sense - why single humans out? Surely succession happens because of the 'intervention' of all species of plants and animals, each trying to make their own living (and subsequently shaping the environment) in their own way. Also we have the usual problem of whether this accurately portrays the actions of capital-H-Humanity or simply of early domesticated Europeans - 'tamed and corralled mammals' not playing a role in the universal Human experience and all that...
I'm interested by the viewing of human populations as invasive species, gradually coming to terms with a new environment. I've been reading Heinberg's The Party's Over where he gives a crash-course in ecology, mentioning how the use of fire by the first people in Australia supposedly 'so disrupted the normal growth cycles of shrubs and trees that large indigenous birds and mammals [...] were deprived of food. [...] roughly 85 percent of the Australian animals weighing more than 100 pounds disappeared within a few millennia of the first human appearance on the scene.' (his source: 'Associated Press, 8 January 1999') However:
[...] over a period of tens of thousands of years, human beings and their adopted environment achieved a relative balance. The Aboriginals developed myths, rites and taboos: overhunting was forbidden, and burning was permitted only in certain seasons of the year. Meanwhile, native species adjusted themselves to the presence of humans. All of the surviving species -- humans, animals, and plants -- co-evolved. By the time European colonizers arrived, once again upsetting the balance, Australia -- people and all -- had the characteristics of a climax ecosystem. Many native Australian trees and shrubs had so adjusted themselves to the Aboriginals' "fire-farming" practices that they could no longer reproduce properly in the absence of deliberate burning. (pp.22-3)
'once again upsetting the balance' implies an equivalence between early Aboriginals and Europeans both engaged in a 'takeover' strategy (as articulated by William Catton) which I'm not entirely comfortable with, but nevertheless the important point seems to be that Aboriginal Australians found a way to 'manage' forests without destroying them - in fact coming to play an integral, indispensable role in the ecological community, which they shaped according to their needs.
Roger Deakin talks about this in his book, Wildwood:
'Firestick farming' describes the way Aboriginal people manipulated and changed their environment on a massive scale through the use of fire. But they never farmed in the conventional sense. The Neolithic passed them by. They used fire to keep their hunting grounds open and freshly grassed by frequent, light burning on the open plains, creating open wood pasture of widely spaced trees though which they could move easily, denying the cover of under-brush to their quarry. The early settlers were all struck by the resemblance of this lightly wooded landscape to English parkland. (p.264)
The last bit made me wonder if there was some kind of deep memory of "What a forest is supposed to look like" behind the parkland ideals. I remember reading somewhere about archaeological evidence for similar uses of fire in pre-agricultural Britain...
Anyway, the 'Ark In Space' author notes that 'people think of dense forestation when they think of wildness'. I would go on to say that 'wilderness', in the minds of those who pit their lives against it (or rather, their ideas about it), also implies an absence of human beings. The first commenter writes about the lack of predatory species in the Oostvaardersplassen as an impediment to its longterm viability, but somehow I don't think he sees humans on that list.
I think this set-aside, preservation, look-but-don't-touch approach is doomed to failure. We need to engage & relate to the rest of the community if we are to find a way to live on this planet - as inlaws rather than outlaws.