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Rewilding In Practice

Wilderness, as a place, is clearly defined. It’s a place that is free of human influence. Getting
to that point, though, is not as cut and dry. After European settlers arrived, the Northeast
changed dramatically. (There are old tales of squirrels being able to travel from the Atlantic
to the Mississippi in treetops without dropping to the ground, but today we have highways,
shopping centers, and cleared lots preventing that.) Considering that fact, Northeast
Wilderness Trust’s (NEWT) mission to create wilderness areas is bold, and for over 20
years, NEWT has been working to preserve nature for nature’s sake. Each property
protected is unique and each property represents something bigger than us.

The bright and green forest at Rosalind & Fred Slavic Wilderness Preserve.

However, every newly acquired property does not come wrapped neatly, as a perfect
wilderness gift. But with each random tire, discarded beer can, or even large structure
comes an opportunity for NEWT to put wilderness ideas into practice.

Two properties that were new to the NEWT portfolio in 2023 are prime examples of this.
Rosalind & Fred Slavic Wilderness Preserve (Fitzwilliam, New Hampshire) and Moriah
Wilderness Preserve (Moriah, New York) each came to NEWT with houses. These
structures, though certainly key characters in the stories of these landscapes, were not
part of NEWT’s vision for a wilder future. By the end of 2023, both houses were gone.

Removing an entire house from a landscape is not simple. So, why do we do it?

The practice of rewilding can give us more context behind the “why.” As a foundation for
rewilding, razing a structure is a quick way to help reverse the effects of habitat loss and
ecosystem degradation by allowing nature to reclaim its inherent spaces and processes.

A before and after at one rewilding site at Moriah Wilderness Preserve.

Here’s how we promoted rewilding at two of NEWT’s newest properties.

Rosalind & Fred Slavic Wilderness Preserve
Officially welcomed to the NEWT family in May of 2023, Rosalind & Fred Slavic Wilderness
Preserve is a dedicated wildland, though the story did not start in 2023. In the 1960s,
Rosalind and Fred Slavic purchased the 300-acre property that now bears their names with
the intention of letting the forest grow old without resource extraction or management.
Their vision for the future was for wilderness, even though that meant eventually removing
a structure they called home.

A before and after at the rewilding site at Slavic Wilderness Preserve. A sign and fence were installed with the help of a volunteer.

Of course, removing a house is not easy, and rewilding can take a village. To raze the house
at the Preserve, the entire community was involved. Since the structure was located close
to the road, an interesting opportunity arose: a controlled burn. After the site was declared
safe by the State, a new partnership was formed that benefited the fire departments, who
sometimes don’t get a lot of in-the-field training experiences, and NEWT, who got to start
the process of rewilding with the assistance of the community. 30+ volunteer firefighters
from 3 towns practiced real-world scenarios, while other volunteers helped promote a
wilderness preserve for nature and for people.

In the end, NEWT and the community just had to take one final action, but the Slavics set
the stage decades ago with their vision for wilderness.

Moriah Wilderness Preserve
150+ miles away, NEWT took ownership of what is now known as Moriah Wilderness
Preserve in June 2023. When NEWT acquired the Preserve there were very clear signs that
nature had started taking over an old two-story house-turned-hunting camp. Such a house
posed a large stewardship challenge, but Moriah was actually a very different beast because
it had not one, but two large structures on the property.

In terms of method, the Moriah Wilderness Preserve structures were handled differently
than the one Slavic Wilderness Preserve. Since they were not easily accessible from the
road, a local contractor was hired to spearhead the rewilding movement. Within a few days
and with some expert excavator work, both structures were on the ground. Eventually, all
debris was removed from the property; some items were even repurposed for use at other

A before and after at the rewilding site of the former two-story house at Moriah Wilderness Preserve.

Condensed into a few sentences, it seems like a straightforward task, but demolishing a
house to rewild an area wasn’t doesn’t always go as smoothly as intended. Day 1 of this
project was met with 12-inches of fresh snow and interior access was difficult given the
condition of the old logging roads used. Fortunately, skilled professionals and determined
NEWT staff saw the project through to the end.

The future
The Slavic project was a community effort to see a donor dream become reality. The
Moriah project was more an exercise for NEWT staff to navigate how to move rewilding
from paper to practice. One thing is certain, though: successful rewilding efforts take
teamwork. Humans are part of these landscapes. Social and cultural stories are just as
important as natural ones, but by joining all three in an effort to do something for nature’s
benefit, the story takes a different shape. We can think about demolitions not as removing
something physical from the landscape, but as a way to start a new chapter in the story of
each wilderness preserve. Rewilding begins now.

Photos of the Rosalind & Fred Slavic Wilderness Preserve structure by Joe Falconeiri, Southern New England Land Steward. Photos of the Moriah Wilderness Preserve structures by Janelle Jones, New York Land Steward. Photo of the forest at Rosalind & Fred Slavic Wilderness Preserve by Shelby Perry, Wildlands Ecologist.