We began 2014 with a post about the need for restoration ecology to focus not so much on the past but rather more on what it can do for the future. Today is a follow-up to that notion with a discussion about the promise and potential of the relatively young discipline and what makes restoration ecology particularly well-suited to restoring ecosystems both now and in the future
The Promise and Potential of Restoration Ecology
Restoration ecology relies upon certain theories, principles, and assumptions and a planning framework that has successfully guided restoration decisions all over the world. This planning or problem solving framework is designed to work with the uniqueness, uncertainty, messiness, and constraints inherent in any restoration. Today, most restorationists have come to rely upon restoration theories and its planning process to develop plans for the healing of prairies, savannas, wetlands, or whatever ecosystem around the globe they are working with.
In future posts I’ll talk more about the specifics of the restoration planning process but first a brief overview of restoration ecology.
The Promise of Restoration
Restoration has great appeal to many people in part because it is an optimistic, forward-looking, and versatile discipline. Restorations can be undertaken for many reasons. For example, the restoration process can be used with great success to enlarge existing preserves, create buffer zones, provide habitat links, revitalize damaged remnants, provide ecosystems services, serve as sites for research and education, and reconnect people to nature as well as to one another. (Howell, et.al 2011 page 395.)
But as anyone who has tried it knows, restoration is not easy. Despite good intentions, achieving one’s goals cannot be taken for granted. There are many constraints and challenges that make it difficult to achieve a project’s desired outcomes.
“ . . . these challenges include a lack of documentation and experimentation, a scarcity of information about natural systems, that natural systems are dynamic and always changing, the use of restoration as an excuse for destroying remnants, and that there is no single formula for success, meaning that each situation requires a unique solution.” In addition to these constraints there is the challenge of working with people. (Howell, et all, 2011).
Working With People and Citizen Involvement
Restoration ecology is more than working with plants and animals; it’s more than removing pest plants (invasive species) and trying to replace them with native plants–it is a social/cultural/ecological discipline, which means that while scientific knowledge is necessary to achieve restoration goals, ecological expertise alone is not sufficient for long-term success. Restoration ecology is really about working with people as much as it is working with the technical aspects of the project.
Therefore, a key theme of the restoration process is this importance of working with people. This is true throughout the restoration process. The ability to work with people becomes a primary component of any restoration and management plan, a much-needed skill on the restoration team, and a key to the future of restoration.
Because of the importance of working with people, planners and managers should involve citizens early and often in any effort to develop a watershed restoration or management plan. Citizens should be involved at the beginning when information is first being gathered; in the middle when alternatives are being discussed; and at the end when the final plan is being considered for adoption.
Restoration ecologists have learned that working with people is both one of restoration’s primary challenges and one of its top benefits. Restoration ecologists know that project stakeholders and restoration team members often have conflicting desires. However, as restoration managers discover conflicting desires can be turned into a strength.
Restoration ecologists know that involved citizens provide inspiration, muscle power, and insightful ideas about how to make a project better. They know that citizen involvement in restoration projects is a key to providing resources and support for long-term projects into the future.
Howell, E.A., J.A. Harrington, and S.B.Glass. 2011. Introduction to Restoration Ecology. Island Press, Washington, D.C.