Endorsing An Ecological Restoration Mission to Restore Social, Racial, and Environmental Justice.

Basic Assumptions That Underlie Ecological Restoration

Like all undertakings in life, ecological restoration is based upon a number of  explicit and implicit assumptions.  This is not a complete list.  Not all restoration ecologists subscribe to all of these assumptions, nor, surprisingly, not everyone shares in this world view.

1.  One assumption that drives restoration is that many parts of Earth are damaged, destroyed, or missing.  As a result, the Earth’s natural capital (the total accumulation of the goods and services provided by global ecosystems) is diminished, to the detriment of the well-being of the planet and its human and non-human inhabitants.

2.  Further, restorationists assume that solutions exist to repair the damage to ecosystems and their value to the world.  

3.  Thirdly, we also assume that some people  have some capacity to care for the planet and to repair the damaged parts of the Earth’s systems.

4.  People—except for neighborhood volunteers and local neighborhoods themselves—are not part of the restoration problem definition/solution.  Until recently ecological restoration confined itself to the repair of damaged plant an animal communities, with the occasional concession to local neighbors—frequently well-to-do white suburban neighborhoods.

5.  Restoration ecologists assume that our repair work can keep pace with environmental destruction all around us.  

6.  And, perhaps, the rest of the world will follow our example and quit messing up the environment, and pitch in to help out.

This is the basis upon which the global ecological restoration enterprise was founded and upon which it has thrives.

Restoration Contributions

Many desired restoration outcomes have been achieved across the globe in the past 85 years since the UW-Madison Arboretum and the restoration work in Australia began.   Restoration is a global efforts and the cumulative scale of the projects is impressive, but still tiny compared to the need; the achievement of restoration outcomes feels like swimming upstream to those doing the restoration.  It is exhilarating work but sometimes discouraging and it also creates a dilemma for restorationists—we work at the indulgence of those who cause the destruction; our work depends upon their continued wrecking of the earth.

Despite ecological restoration work around the globe, we are falling behind.  Our creative ecological work can’t keep up with the rate of destruction.  Why?

What’s Missing?

For one thing, restorationists, have sometimes been treating symptoms (drained wetlands, degraded prairies,) instead of the root causes of ecological damage which is human activities (mining, logging, commercial building, etc.)

Also missing is an explicit assumption that ecological restoration should benefit people—especially people of color, and civic communities—directly.

Ecological restoration should adopt a mission to repair our disintegrating cities;  to help our urban poor, assist the homeless, and the disenfranchised; ecological restoration should block the actions of predatory capitalist systems that pave over our farmland and natural areas before we an even think about restoring them.

As long as our fellow citizens and our communities suffer, are not free, and are not safe, then none of us will be healthy and none of us will be free and none of us safe, and the ecological damage will continue.

Things must change and restoration ecology is uniquely qualified to jump into the fray and help those already engaged in social and human services efforts.

We Need Some New, Additional Assumptions on Which Ecological Restoration Can Be Based.

Look around at the mess this country has  created and and you can see that ecological restoration’s  basic operating assumptions—while perhaps necessary at one time—are no longer sufficient in today’s world.  Before we can repair our nation’s damaged ecosystems, we must repair of our country’s social, racial,  cultural.  If you have any doubt about the need, look at the mass demonstrations across the country the past two weeks.  People in the streets are calling for social, racial, and environmental justice.

The SER Mission, Vision, and Guiding Principles

The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) has a mission, vision, and guiding principles that address this issue head-on:  guidance.

“Across the globe, centuries of unsustainable activities have damaged the aquatic, marine, and terrestrial environments that underpin our economies and societies and give rise to a diversity of wildlife and plants. SER is dedicated to reversing this degradation and restoring the earth for the benefit of humans and nature.

Our Mission

SER advances the science, practice and policy of ecological restoration to sustain biodiversity, improve resilience in a changing climate, and re-establish an ecologically healthy relationship between nature and culture.

Our Vision

Ecological restoration becomes a fundamental component of conservation and sustainable development programs throughout the world by virtue of its inherent capacity to provide people with the opportunity to not only repair ecological damage, but also improve the human condition.

Our Guiding Principles

These underlying principles guide and inform our work:

  • Ecological restoration is an engaging and inclusive process. Restoration embraces the interrelationships between nature and culture, engages all sectors of society, and enables full and effective participation of indigenous, local and disenfranchised communities
  • Ecological restoration requires the integration of knowledge and practice. Science and other forms of knowledge are essential for designing, implementing and monitoring restoration projects and programs. At the same time, lessons learned from practical experiences are essential for determining and prioritizing the scientific needs of the field.
  • Ecological restoration is policy-relevant and essential. Restoration is a critical tool for achieving biodiversity conservation, mitigating and adapting to climate change, enhancing ecosystem services, fostering sustainable socioeconomic development, and improving human health and well-being.
  • Ecological restoration is practiced locally with global implications. Restoration takes place in all regions of the world, with local actions having regional and global benefits for nature and people.

“A Restoration Ethic”

Hull and Robertson (2000, “Restoring Nature: Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Humanities.”)  suggest that by restoring damage to the Earth’s systems, we also enter into a relationship with the planet that helps repairs our connection to nature and our own communities, thereby increasing our own social  and personal capital.

This set of assumptions constitute what Hull and Robertson might call “ a restoration ethic”.   In their view, restoration blurs the distinction between culture and nature and opens up a broad  middle ground where it is acceptable for humans and nature to interact.

I would suggest we broaden the restoration ethic to include repairing our relationships with our fellow humans.

Examples of Direct Action

The SER guiding principles are excellent.  But I am suggesting that those in the discipline–both paid professionals and community volunteers–build upon them by taking direct action, on our own, in addition to our traditional ecological restoration work, to aid our communities, by, for example picking one of these suggestions for individual and community civic action.  Many of you, I know, are already doing one, or more, of these civic engagement strategies to great effect

Lend your expertise to start or working with a community garden in your area.

Teach people how to grow their own food.

Organize and lead efforts to restore and improve habitat in your neighborhood.

Work with a food bank or other community action non-profit.

Help with literacy programs in your area.

Find ways to fight poverty.

Help register people to vote in November 2020.

Join the governing board of a local non-profit.

Run for local political office.

Organize neighborhood clean-up efforts.

Join a local science-advisory board.

Offer your scientific or practical plant expertise to a local neighborhood-based restoration project.

Publish a news blog covering local news and events that are not covered by the local paper.  If there is no local paper, such an effort is even more important.

Help clean up a vacant lot and grow native plants in it.

Teach kids and neighbors how to identify plants and birds.

Help design and install residential rain gardens and/or pollinator gardens.

Human activities are the cause of environmental destruction.  Human activities are also the cause of the destruction of our cities, and their citizens. Only human activities c Gan reverse the damage we have done.

 We are where we are today as the direct result of the sum total of human activities throughout our existence and thus we are all complicit and we are all responsible for repairing the damage (Ghosh, 2016).   The vast disruption to, and outright destruction of, ecosystems, and the poisoning of the air, land, and water have presented restoration ecologists with vast challenges and opportunities and responsibilities.  Opportunities exist to attempt to reverse some of this damage; to save some small portion of the at-risk plants and animals, and to restore or recreate other small patches of prairie, savanna, coral reefs, and tropical forests.  But restoration of ecosystems is only half of the job; we have a responsibility to help repair our society..  Repair of our social and cultural systems is mandatory.   Without this effort, attempts at ecological restoration are irrelevant, meaningless, and futile.


Ghosh, Amitav. 2016.  The Great Derangement, climate change and the unthinkable.  Chicago, The University of Chicago Press.

Hull and Robertson (2000, “Conclusion: Which Nature” IN Restoring Nature: Perspectives from the Social Sciences and Humanities, edited by P.H.Gobster and R.B. Hull, 299-307, Washington. DC Island Press

Posted in Basic assumptions of restoration ecology, Community-based restoration, Ecological restoration, Neighborhood restoration projects, Restoration ecology, Social Justice, Society for Ecological Restoration | 5 Comments

Congressional Climate Crisis Action Plan Based on Environmental Justice and a Healthy Environment for All Families

Plan Links Restoration of Environmental Justice, Land Health, and Human Health as Critical in Fight Against the Climate Crisis

The Solving the Climate Crisis Action Plan, released on Tuesday (July 30, 2020) by the U.S. House of Representatives,

provides a roadmap for Congress to build a prosperous, clean energy economy that values workers,advances environmental justice, and is prepared to meet the challenges of the climate crisis.”

This plan is important because environmental justice and equity are at the center of the House Democrats’s plan; “it takes on environmental racism, economic injustice, and other inequities throughout — these issues are, according to the Plan’s authors, “crucial considerations” (according to a report from Our Daily Planet. on Wednesday. The plan is also important, because as Our Daily Planet says, “these groups have real political muscle.”

The action plan is supported by a collation of more than 300 progressive groups across the spectrum of environmental and civil rights organizations. The endorsers include the Dane County (WI) Office of Energy and Climate and Conservation Voters of Wisconsin.

You can learn more about the Climate Crisis Action Plan by clicking here. For the full report, click here. And, for a summary report, click here.

Restoration also part of the Action Plan

Importantly, from an ecological restoration perspective, the congressional climate crisis action plan include references to, and direct calls for restorative actions. For example, from this plan is the section that calls for

“Protect at least 30% of al U.S. lands and ocean areas by 2030, prioritizing areas with high ecological, biodiversity, and carbon sequestration value.”

Limit new leasing for fossil fuel extraction on public lands on shore and off􏰀shore.

•Protect and restore ocean and wetland ecosystems, forests, and grasslands to sequester carbon and improve nature’s resilience to climate impacts, including wildfire and coastal flooding.

•Create jobs through conservation and reclamation by re-establishing the Civilian Conservation Corps, creating a Climate Resilience Service Corps, and restoring abandoned coal mines and oil and gas wells.

CCC Redux

If you recall your environmental history, the ecological restoration movement got its start in Madison, WI–and across the country–as Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) Camps, filled with unemployed young people, worked on environmental repair and restoration projects: building roads, correcting erosion problems, planting prairies and forests. It is time for such civic-minded action again.

Here at the present-day Pope Farm Conservancy in Dane County, Wisconsin, The CCC boys from the Civilian Conservation Corps in Mt. Horeb, Wisconsin in 1938 built this storm water spillway. The spillway has survived intact and functional for 82 years.
Posted in Civilian Conservation Corps, Ecological restoration, Ecological restoration as a values and social-political project, Environmental justice, Restoration ecology | Leave a comment

Updates to “America in Crisis” Blog Post

June 2, 2020

Society for Ecological Restoration Issues Statement on Social Justice as a Requirement for  Ecological Restoration

Today (June 2, 2020), the Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) issued a statement saying that “SER stands united with those demonstrating peacefully to speak out against racism and injustice wherever they occur.”

The statement makes the point that: “When environmental injustice prevails, both conservation and restoration falter.” And goes on: “For ecological restoration to succeed, everyone, everywhere should be safe and welcome in the natural world.”

See the full statement here.

Ecological Relationships blog Discusses the Need for Social and Racial Justice.

Adam Thada, a friend and ecological restoration colleague publishes an excellent and thoughtful blog that reflects on, well, ecological relationships of all sorts, especially those in the heartland.  Some of his views on social justice and ecological restoration are below:

“The idea that we can play safely off to the side without respect to political movements is a happy thought, but one that originates in privilege. We can ignore it (for a time), but our neighbors have the boot on their neck. And ultimately, it is an illusion. We drink from the same aquifer, we breathe the same air. We will only flourish or perish together.”

You can read the full post and the rest of Adam’s blog here.

Posted in Ecological restoration, Ecological restoration as a values and social-political project, Restoration ecology, Social Justice, Society for Ecological Restoration | Leave a comment

America In Crisis–It’s Worse Than You Think

What Can Ecological Restoration Do About It?

Monday June 1, 2020

I usually write about environmental topics like water use and issues in ecological restoration, but not today. Given the crisis in America, those topics seem a little small and irrelevant. But, the crisis in racial, social, and environmental justice in America that was laid bare, like a hospital X Ray, by the coronavirus pandemic, has also exposed the similarity between how society treats its citizens and how it treats its natural areas and wild spaces. In this country, both get the short end of the stick.  

The role of ecological restoration as a values and social justice project is my topic today.

Country Being Ripped Apart by Multiple Emergencies 

Amid the triple catastrophes of the  global climate crisis, the  Covid-19 pandemic, and resulting depression-era unemployment, along comes a nation-wide uprising against the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis , Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and countless other black Americans who have lost their lives to racial violence.  This uprising has been a long time—over 400 years—coming.

The protests—the majority of which are peaceful—were sparked initially by outrage over the cold-blooded killing of Mr. Floyd and others.   Over the weekend, protests were held in more than 70 U.S. cities—including Madison, WI..

Tbe looting and burning that has taken place amidst the peaceful protests is separate from, and antithetical to,  the cause of racial justice.  The looting is reportedly incited by both right and lift-wing extremists.

Slavery, Racism, and Environmental Destruction, are components of the same human pathology, and has gone on for way too long.

But the nation-wide outrage is  also fueled by 400 years of slavery, abuse, inequality, suppression of voting rights, the poisoning and pollution of  Black communities—think the Flint, Michigan crisis of lead in drinking water—and decades of systemic inequality, and racism.  All of this has made the climate crisis and the coronavirus pandemic worse for communities of color.  In short, America’s history of slavery and racism and led to environmental damage for us all.

A World of Wounds

As citizens, and human beings, we should be concerned and enraged by the mistreatment of our fellow citizens and humans.  If we aren’t we have not been paying attention.  

Likewise, as environmental activists, restoration ecologists, or birders, if for example, we are concerned and enraged by environmental damage, species extinctions,  destruction of habitat and the poisoning of our land and water, we must at the same time be concerned and enraged by the systemic police brutality as practiced against African Americans.  (NBC News has just reported that Minneapolis Police have rendered dozens of individuals unconscious, in at least 44 separate cases over the last 5 years through the same “knee on the neck” technique used to kill George Floyd.)

“ . . . Aldo Leopold sized up the psychological state many of us today find ourselves in today, when he wrote in his essay “Round River”:  “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds . . . An ecologist must either harden his shell and make believe the consequences of science are none of his business, or he must be the doctor who sees the marks of death in a community that believes itself well and does not want to be told otherwise.” (1949, p. 197) From Introduction to Restoration Ecology page 5.  

Although Leopold was speaking of the wounds to the nation’s ecological systems, the same sentiment applies today to our wounded social, cultural, and racial communities.

Others have also written about the challenge of living in a wounded world.

For example, William Carlos Williams, the poet and physician, has said of America and its conquest of lands and peoples: “History begins for us with murder and enslavement, not with discovery.” (William Carlos Williams,  “In The American Grain”,  New Directions, 1925 page 44).  

Likewise, Robert Kaplan in his recent book, “Earning the Rockies”, describes as “irreconcilable” the American dichotomy between its “manifest destiny” to conquer the landscape, and the material riches that flowed from the subjection of land and native peoples.  These two strands of American history cannot be reconciled.    This un-reconcilable “chicken” has come home to roost this week, in the words of Charles M. Blow in the New York Times on June 1, 2020.

What Should Restoration Ecologists Do Now?

Leopold’s comments about land doctoring foretold what has come to be known as the discipline of ecological restoration.  The profession  (which didn’t even exist as a self-conscious and named endeavor in Leopold’s day) has grown since Leopold’s early vision into a global enterprise, with an international organization to support its thousands of projects and practitioners around the world.   

But what can, and should ecological restoration do today?  Today, when the United States, seems anything but united.  Today, when there is a bomb thrower and riot inciter living in The White House? What should be the mission and purpose of this earth mending science?  What are the challenges facing ecological restoration?  Should it be the job of ecological restoration to attempt to correct these social ills as well as ecological ones?

Simply put,   yes, it should be the mission of ecological restoration to correct these racial, and social ills.  Because, without racial justice, social justice, and environmental justice, attempts at ecological restoration are meaningless, irrelevant, and futile.

Restoration ecologists must hold their “restoration shovel” in one hand and extend the other hand in helpfulness and understanding to those less fortunate and downtrodden by systemic racism.  I think that Aldo Leopold, were he alive today would urge similar action.


Posted in Aldo Leopold, Ecological restoration, Ecological restoration as a values and social-political project, Environmental justice, Racial justice and ecological restoration, Restoration ecology, Social Justice | Tagged | 4 Comments

PFAS Found In Sediment and Surface Water At Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern

PFAS Are Highest In The Kinnickinnic River

MADISON, Wis. – The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has received results from surface water and sediment sampling performed in November 2019 to determine if per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, commonly called PFAS, are present in areas that are targeted for potential cleanup-related dredging across the US EPA-designated Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern (AOC).

PFAS are a group of human-made chemicals used for decades in numerous products, including non-stick cookware, fast food wrappers, stain-resistant sprays and certain types of firefighting foam. These contaminants have made their way into the environment through spills of PFAS-containing materials and discharges of PFAS-containing wastewater to treatment plants and through use of certain types of firefighting foams. PFAS can persist in the environment and the human body for long periods of time. Recent scientific findings indicate that exposure to certain PFAS may have harmful health effects in people.

Great Lakes Areas of Concern

A Great Lakes Area of Concern (AOC) is a location that has experienced environmental degradation.  The U.S.-Canada Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement (Annex 1 of the 2012 Protocol) defines AOCs as “geographic areas designated by the Parties where significant impairment of beneficial uses has occurred as a result of human activities at the local level.”

An AOC is listed when it has been determined to be “impaired” because of a detrimental impact on “beneficial uses” such as fish habitat, beach closings, or impacts to drinking water quality.  For a complete list of the Beneficial Use Impacts (BUI’s) click here.

EPA and other federal and state agencies are working to restore the 27 remaining U.S. AOCs in the Great Lakes basin.  To learn more about Great Lakes AOC’s and efforts to rehabilitate them, click here.

Milwaukee River Estuary AOC

The Milwaukee Estuary is one of 31 US-based Areas of Concern created under the authority of the 1987 Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement under the auspices of the International Joint Commission.  At the time the main concerns were related to PCB’s and heavy metals; the addition of PFAS to the list of contaminants, appears to be new.

For on overview of the Milwaukee Estuary AOC beneficial use impairments and rehabilitation work, click here.  For a look at the boundaries of the Milwaukee Estuary, click here.

Results indicate the presence of PFAS compounds in sediment and all surface water samples taken in the Milwaukee Estuary Area of Concern. PFBA (Perfluorobutanoate) was found in 100% of the surface water samples. PFBA is considered less toxic than the more widely studied compounds PFOA (Perfluorooctanoate) and PFOS (Perfluorooctane sulfonate).

Thirteen locations in the Milwaukee, Menomonee, Kinnickinnic Rivers and inner and outer harbors, as well as one location in Lake Michigan, were sampled for 35 PFAS compounds. This watershed is the most urban watershed in the state of Wisconsin with approximately 90% of the area considered urban.

Remedial Action Plan

In 1991, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WIDNR) developed a Remedial Action Plan for the Milwaukee Estuary AOC.

The main priorities for the Milwaukee Estuary AOC include:

  • remediation of contaminated sediments in tributaries and nearshore waters of Lake Michigan;
  • nonpoint source pollution control;
  • improving water quality for recreation; and
  • enhancing fish and wildlife habitat and populations.

Why This Matters

PFAS are a human health hazard.  Eating fish, or drinking water contaminated with PFAS is not a good idea.  The WIDNR is currently awaiting test results on fish collected in the Milwaukee Estuary.  The current DNR fish consumption advisory can be found by clicking here.  Continue to monitor the DNR site for results of the fish sampling conducted in the Milwaukee Estuary.

Posted in Great Lakes Areas of Concern, Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, PFAS, PFAS compounds | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Elevated PFAS Levels Found in Dane County (WI) Regional Airport Stormwater Runoff

MADISON,  WI–May 8, 2020

Dane County (Wisconsin) has announced new test results that show that water draining from the Dane County Regional Airport (Madison) contains harmful PFAS compounds at thousands of times the concentrations considered safe by other states.

Samples were taken from 23 separate outfalls or drainage outlets around the airport. The outfalls drain into Starkweather Creek which in turn drains into Lake Monona in the City of Madison.

Previous sampling had revealed PFAS in both water draining into Starkweather Creek and in the creek water itself.

Water from 12 of the outfalls had levels of one such compound, PFOS, which tends to accumulate in fish, that exceeded the 12 parts per trillion limit set by Michigan, one of the few states to adopt PFAS standards for surface water.

One site had a PFOS concentration of 17,500 parts per trillion; another had a concentration of 2,220 ppt. According to the Dane County report published in the Wisconsin State Journal (May 7, 2020.).

The report did not list specific test results, locations, or methodologies. The on-going cleanup and investigation have been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.


Perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that have been used since the 1950s. Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS) are the most widely produced and studied of these chemicals.

Although some of these substances have been phased out of production, such as those through the PFOA stewardship program, they may still be found in everyday consumer products, such as some grease-resistant paper, nonstick cookware, stain resistant fabrics, cleaning products, and other personal care products like shampoo and nail polish, according to information on the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website. https://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/chemical/pfas.htm

Why This Matters

PFAS are a public health issue.
For starters, PFAS are probably in your drinking water. They are almost certainly in your bloodstream. PFAS compounds have been found in fish taken from Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona

Madison’s water supply now comes partly from its aquifer and partly from its lakes, such as Lake Monona. This is so because Madison’s groundwater has been so depleted that lake water now drains into the groundwater aquifer, meaning that contaminants in lake water subsequently contaminate drinking water.

“Most people in the US have PFAS in their blood, similar to the low levels observed in blood for other industrial compound classes like flame retardants and plasticizers.” https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/pfas/pfas-in-population.html

Science is still learning about the health effects of PFAS. For a detailed discussion check out the Wisconsin Department of Health Services wetbsite:

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WIDNR) has issued a fish consumption advisory for elevated PFOS levels in Starkweather Creek and Lake Monona.

Posted in fluorinated foam, Groundwater, PFAS, PFAS compounds, Starkweather Creek, Water quality in Madison | Tagged | Leave a comment

Inspiring Restoration Story from New Zealand

Hugh Wilson, a New Zealand botanist, has spent 30 years regenerating a native forest on degraded farmland on New Zealand’s South Island. Hugh has worked his regeneration magic in the Hinewai Nature Reserve, on the Banks Peninsula, on the Atlantic side of the South Island.

Hugh Wilson’s work is showcased in a 30-minute documentary titled: “Fools and Dreamers: Regenerating a Native Forest”. Click here to view the video.

Hugh’s land, like that of his farmer neighbors, had been overtaken by gorse ( Ulex europaeus), a weedy shrub native to Europe that has been introduced into many other parts of the world. Gorse has become a widespread pest plant in disturbed lands in New Zealand. Learn more about gorse by clicking here.

When, in 1987, Hugh first set out to restore the native New Zealand forest, his neighbors labeled him a “fool and dreamer” for his intention to let the gorse grow while he used it as a nurse crop for the native forest species he knew would reclaim the land. Hugh has since won over the local community and has been declared a local and national hero. He now oversees 1500 hectares of “resplendent native forest.”

Hugh uses the regeneration approach which does little planting of native species and uses a “light hand” to encourage native species to move in.  Hugh does a wonderful job of explaining how his approach works.

The film is well done and tells an inspiring story of thirty years of dedicated hard work. Hugh is an appealing character and dispenses much wisdom about restoration, how to live creatively, and lightly on the land in the modern world.


Posted in Ecological restoration, Restoration ecology | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Ecological Restoration Is Needed, Now More Than Ever

Our Planet is dealing with three worldwide emergencies at once:

The coronavirus pandemic, global climate disruption, and mass extinction of species.  Each of these emergencies by itself is an existential threat to the planet, humanity, and the rest of the species that call Earth home.

So far, these problems appear to be distinct, but with impacts similar in scope and scale. We do know that the global climate disruption is influencing species extinctions. However, if all three threats somehow begin to work together to exacerbate the effects of one another, in a synergistic way, the consequences are beyond comprehension. Such an outcome could push us into distraction and paralysis–just at the time when we all need to be working to help save our communities and the Earth.

Time to Stay Focused and Engaged

Now is not the time to give up. We all need to stay engaged and focused on prevention, restoration, and civic engagement.

We need to stay healthy, don’t panic, and remain focused on our work. That is to say, stay in the game so that we can continue–even ramp up–our ecological restoration work, help others, and continue to be engaged–although at a distance–in our community and civic improvement projects.

To do this we need to heed the advice of medical experts from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Dr. Anthony Fauci: don’t panic, wash our hands frequently, maintain a safe distance from others, avoid large gatherings, and don’t go out in public if you are ill.

Is Working Outdoors During the Pandemic Safe?

Of course it is, if you are careful and follow guidelines about social distancing, etc. Being outdoors with fresh air and breezes and with room to maintain social distancing is a great way to do good works and maybe also get some much-needed productive distraction. As the US Surgeon General said today, (Thursday 03.19.20) “Social distancing does not have to mean social disengagement.”

On a similar note, in a message today from Scott Fulton, the president and acting executive director of The Prairie Enthusiasts, he urged members to continue their engagement with restoration projects:

“During these difficult times of “social distancing” and isolation, safe ways for maintaining community contact and getting outdoors into nature are more important than ever.  Outdoor events such as burns, work parties and field trips appear to be low risk, as they are not in confined spaces and have relatively small numbers of people who can easily maintain the recommended 6-foot distance. We suggest that these events be continued wherever possible.”

If you don’t feel confident being in a group of any size right now, that’s understandable and respected. Instead, spend your outdoor time on your own working in your garden–or that of a neighbor–by increasing the number and diversity of native plants. Create a pollinator garden in a spare corner; improve overall bird habitat in your yard; pull invasive pest plants; plant more milkweed and nectar plants for the monarchs and other butterflies that will be returning soon.

We Need to Live Up to the Moment We Are In

Other restorative acts that are also important include those volunteer efforts that help strengthen civic communities. Examples include checking in on neighbors to assess their health and needs. Offer to pick up groceries or meals or prescriptions for them or do odd jobs around the house. You can think of other such acts of kindness. Simple things, but ones that will help hold us together in these tough times.

All these words are based upon the coronavirus situation as we know it on March 18, 2020. The situation is likely to change quickly and, as Dr. Fauci said, “will get much worse, before it gets better.”, thus perhaps rendering the above recommendations mute.

Posted in Restoration ecology | 1 Comment

Vanishing Natural Areas

If it seems to you that there are fewer forests, grasslands, wetlands, and other natural places than there were a few years ago, you would be right. And if you think there is a lot more areas in need of restoration, then you would also be right—and distressingly so.

A report issued last year describes the situation: “The United States is quietly losing its remaining forests, grasslands, deserts, and natural places at a blistering pace. Every 30 seconds, a football field worth of America’s natural areas disappears to roads, houses, pipelines, and other development.1”, according to a report issued in August 2019 by the Center for American Progress (CAP).

You can do the math to calculate how many acres of natural areas have been lost since the report came out, but you better be sitting down while you run the numbers.

The estimate is based upon a report that the Center for American Progress (CAP) commission from a non-profit group of scientists, the Conservation Science Partners (CSP)

“The scientific team at CSP found that human activities are causing the persistent and rapid loss of America’s natural areas. The human footprint in the continental United States grew by more than 24 million acres from 2001 to 2017—equivalent to the loss of roughly a football field worth of natural area every 30 seconds. The South and Midwest experienced the steepest losses of natural area in this period; the footprints of cities, farms, roads, power plants, and other human development in these two regions grew to cover 47 percent and 59 percent of all land area, respectively. If national trends continue, a South Dakota-sized expanse of forests, wetlands, and wild places in the continental United States will disappear by 2050.6.”


This is an alarming report
Think about the conclusions for a minute. The US has lost not just 24 million acres, and counting, but also the biodiversity that the land nurtured; the ecosystems services of the lost prairies, wetlands, and woodlands; the birds and other wildlife that inhabited the former natural area; the cushion against climate disruption provided by the vast carbon sinks of prairies and forests; the environmental protections protections against flooding and contaminants provided by wetlands.

Possibly the worst and most regrettable consequences are that we are loosing not only our natural heritage, but also the raw materials of restoration—the land and flora and fauna we work with. And with these losses goes the the potential for restoring the destroyed natural areas. As restorationists, we all know how difficult and nearly impossible it is to restore an acre of land under the best of circumstances. Can you imagine the magnitude of the task without the natural ingredients or reference systems?

30 X 30 Proposal
The CAP-commissioned study has spurred the organization to support a plan to encourage the United States to set aside and protect 30 percent of its lands and waters by 2030. The plan is called 30X30 and is based upon a Senate resolution (30 X 30 Resolution to Save Nature) introduced on October 22, 2019 by U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Michael Bennet (D-Colo.). The resolution is cosponsored by U.S. Senators Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), and Warren (D-Mass.). Note that several current 2020 presidential candidates (Bennet, Booker, Harris, and Warren) co-sponsored the bill.

Sen. Bennet said in support of the proposal: “We can’t address climate change without focusing on conservation,” said Bennet. “Committing to conserving 30 percent of America’s land and oceans by 2030 is exactly the kind of ambitious strategy we need to protect our wildlife and lands, and tackle this urgent crisis. Setting an aggressive, tangible conservation and climate goal has been a long-standing priority of mine, and I could not have asked for a better partner to advance this legislation. That’s why I am thrilled to be leading this resolution with Senator Udall today.”

The press release from Sen. Udall’s office announcing the 30 X 30 Proposal can be found here.

The Center for American Progress report offers eight guiding principles that should be employed in support of the 30 X 30 effort. Featured prominently is ecological restoration.

  1. “The restoration of degraded lands and coasts will be critical to achieving 30X30. Logging, mining, development, and other activities have left many ecosystems in a degraded state. For example, the U.S. Forest Service estimates that between 65 million and 82 million acres of national forest lands require restoration, and the amount of necessary restoration on other public and private lands is certainly much higher.32 On the coasts, much restoration work such as salt marsh and dune restoration is caught in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ $98 billion backlog of unfunded projects.33 Restoration work is essential to bolstering both the quantity and quality of protected lands in the United States.”

Lots of Conservation and Restoration To Do In the Midwest
You can see in the chart above that the United States midwest region has suffered the greatest loss of natural areas in the country: 7.7 million acres, or 59.4% of the total land area in the region. This means that as restorationists we have plenty of work to do. We need to pick up the pace of restoration–we need to restore more acres faster.

These lose of 24 million acres, and counting means, that as conservationists, we need to begin purchasing, setting aside, or otherwise preserving natural areas before they are destroyed. Any open, green area, has great potential and importance; no area is too small or too degraded to be set aside as open space. If this conservation-first approach means that we can’t do the quality and quantity of restoration that we are accustomed to right away, then so be it. But at least the land will be set aside in safe hands until we have the time and resources to get down to restoration.

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