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Accepted Paper:

The return of the wolf in the Netherlands: intruder or longed-for sight in the "new wilderness"?  
Anke Tonnaer (Radboud University)

Paper short abstract:

This paper discusses the return of the wolf in the Netherlands against the backdrop of the public debate of whether the “new wilderness” can serve as an accurate imaginary of the Dutch landscape. The mixed reception of its return shows the ambiguity of the current-day human-environment relation.

Paper long abstract:

On 7 March 2015, a wolf was spotted in Drenthe, a sparsely populated Dutch province bordering on Germany. For several days the animal wandered the area, causing a national outburst of both fear and enchantment, as ostensibly "the wolf" had returned to the Netherlands after the species was last seen 150 years ago. In this paper, I will analyse this incident against the backdrop of a larger public debate on the legitimacy of the "new wilderness" as an accurate imaginary of the Dutch landscape. The new wilderness is the contemporary creation of relatively vast expanses of Dutch as well as European lands through a restoration strategy known in rather oxymoronic terms as "nature development". Public support for the new wilderness depends on an imaginary in which nature may prosper undisturbed and the Dutch public can enjoy its spectacular scenery at the same time, including the rare sighting of large predators like the wolf. This imaginary, however, is highly contested by others, such as farmers and local residents. In the view of these adversaries, the "new wild" is little more than a virtual concept in a man-made country like the Netherlands. I argue that the reception of the wolf's return epitomizes the ambiguities of the current day human-environment relation. Whereas the opponents reason there is, both territorially and symbolically, no place for the animal any longer, the advocates strive to demystify its historically bad reputation by heralding it as the new spectacular in a rewilded landscape.

Panel P057
The return of the wild: fears, hopes, strategies. Ethnographic encounters in wildlife management in Europe
  Session 1