What Is Restoration Ecology?


This New Year’s Day 2013 is a good time to preview some of the themes, topics, and watershed developments that will be covered this year.

One of the purposes of this blog is to explore the assumptions, challenges, and opportunities of an emerging point on the conservation continuum–restoration ecology.  Another purpose of this blog is to explore–through the lenses of the Lake Wingra Watershed, the City of Madison, and Dane County, Wisconsin–how these theories and principles are put to work in the on-the-ground practice of restoration ecology.

Although the term “restoration” implies that “something will be put back together”, modern day restoration has its eye on the future and looks to the near-distant past mainly as a reference point to help design and compose the landscape of the future.  Although restoration ecologists look to the past because their best understanding of natural communities comes from historic records and experience, the ususal goal is not to duplicate the past (an impossible task) but rather to provide the conditions under which the products of evolutionary and environmental  history–plants, animals, communities, and ecosystems–can continue to thrive into the future.

In this blog, “restoration ecology”, or simply “restoration”, refers to both the theory (restoration ecology) and the practice of restoration (ecological restoration).  This usage reflects the seamless nature and blend of both activities–theory informs practice and practice informs theory in a mutually beneficial relationship.

The promise of restoration is that the process can be used to achieve desirable outcomes such as enlarging existing preserves, to create buffer zones, provide habitat links, revitalize damaged remnants, provide ecosystem services, serve as sites for research and education, and reconnect people to nature as well as to one another.  These are the opportunities; opportunities that are abundant in Dane County, Wisconsin.

There are challenges also. They include lack of documentation and experimentation, a scarcity of information about natural systems, the fact that natural systems are dynamic and always changing, the use of restoration as an excuse for destroying remnants, and the fact that there is no single solution or formula for success, meaning that each situation requires a unique solution.

The Madison and Dane County region, which is often referred to as the birthplace of restoration ecology because of the early work in the 1930’s at the University of Wisconsin-Madison Arboretum, has a solid track record of achievement in restoration ecology but many challenges remain.  Over the next year we will examine how Madison and Dane County take advantage of restoration opportunities and deal with its challenges.

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About Steve Glass

The blogger is a restoration ecologist practicing and writing in the Midwestern United States.
This entry was posted in Lake Wingra Watershed, Restoration ecology and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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