Some Basic Assumptions of Restoration Ecology


Continuing our preview of restoration themes and topics that this blog will cover this year, let’s talk about assumptions.

We all work from a set of assumptions about how the world works, and our purpose and place in it.    Without making assumptions we would be paralyzed into inaction.  On the other hand, having assumptions and either not recognizing them or challenging them, can be unhealthy as well.

Likewise with restoration projects it is important to articulate the assumptions you have made about the systems you wish to restore.  Articulating assumptions about restoration ecology is a necessary step in improving the discipline and  to recognize and discuss critical underlying theories and/or hunches.  In a shameless plug, my co-authors, Evelyn Howell and John Harrington and myself take up this topic in more detail in our textbook, Introduction to Restoration Ecology from Island Press.

"The Shack" at the Aldo Leopold Foundation near Baraboo, Wisconsin.

“The Shack” at the Aldo Leopold Foundation near Baraboo, Wisconsin.  Photo by Stephen B. Glass.

One assumption that motivates restoration ecologists is that humans have damaged or destroyed many of the Earth’s parts and processes and, in fact, many ecosystem parts are now missing.  This notion was first popularized by ecologist Aldo Leopold in his famous book, “A Sand County Almanac.”    More recently, (Howell, Harrington, and Glass, 2011, page 22) state that “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.”

A corollary is that restoration ecologists assume that human damage to the Earth’s resources can be repaired, that people have the capacity to care for the planet, and that the science and practice of restoration ecology provides the means and methods by which the Earth’s natural capital can be, at least stabilized.

A third assumption that restoration ecologists live by is that the act of restoration improves the relationships between people and the land and the relationships between humans.

It should be noted that these assumptions are not universally held.  It always comes as a shock to me when I meet someone who is not familiar with restoration ecology, who doubts is value, or maybe even actively opposes it.

But there is hope because the restoration planning process itself provides a broad middle ground in which it is possible for humans to interact with the land and with each other in a civilized and respectful search for a sustainable future.  For, as the President recently said: “No one gets a hundred percent of what they want.”  At least, this is my operating assumption.

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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 Ecological restoration, Restoration ecology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Some Basic Assumptions of Restoration Ecology

  1. Pingback: The Future of Restoration Ecology | WingraSprings

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