January 1, 2014–This New Year’s Day 2014 is a good time to reflect on restoration ecology’s past and to consider new directions for its future. It is a theme that this blog will return to often in 2014 but I will just touch on it briefly this time by offering an alternative lens through which restoration can view its work.
Restoration ecology is a forward-looking, multifaceted discipline that has both deep roots in the past and a future-oriented perspective. But on this first day of 2014 instead of asking the usual question of what should restoration do in the future, we should be asking ourselves: What can and should restoration do for the future? The answer, I think, is plenty and a topic we will return to in later posts this coming year.
Although the term restoration has always implied that land managers will be putting “something back”–or back together–modern restoration ecology draws upon the near-distant past (say, the last 100 years, or so) mainly because our understanding of natural communities comes in part from historic records and experience.
But as members of a restoration team, our goal will not likely be to duplicate the past, but rather to create a sustainable future. We restorationists don’t like to admit it but we cannot return an ecosystem to an earlier era. Restoring something to what it was 10 years ago, let alone 100 or more years ago, is basically out of reach.
But we do have a viable alternative approach. There is nothing that we can do for the damaged ecosystems of the past–beyond saving the few that we can, honoring the rest, and learning from them all. But what we can do is to prepare the ecosystems of the present for survival and sustainability into the future. Our jobs as restoration ecologists must be to create restorations that work in the future and 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.