Oct. 25, 2020

Taking action

For those who are concerned about the state of the environment, there can be a kind of grief and hopelessness regarding the degradation of Mother Earth and the systems that sustain our lives. And it seems like there is so little one can do to effect positive changes. Yes, we can recycle, conserve energy in our homes and for transportation, strive to buy food grown sustainably, but the problems seem bigger than us. The petrol-chemical and fossil fuel industries are entrenched in our economic system and money talks in our congress. It’s as though they no longer represent the people’s best interests, they represent moneyed interests.

But we can take action in the form of restoration. Habitat restoration is defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration as the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed. The goals for an individual project will vary from site to site because each place is unique, but the intention is to allow a site to return to its historic ecological state. This return can be measured by comparing site characteristics to an undisturbed or less-disturbed “reference” site. Restoration can encompass a wide variety of actions including removing a specific source of stress, restoring natural processes like flooding and fire, removing invasive species or reintroducing extirpated native species.

The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) is a non-profit professional society for restoration ecology researchers and practitioners. SER publishes the peer-reviewed journal Restoration Ecology, organizes conferences and creates publications to encourage best practices in the restoration field. There are resources that offer ideas for restoration practices and restoration projects. Here is their website: https://www.ser.org/default.aspx

Here is SER’s overview of restoration:

FOUR PRINCIPLES. We advocate considering four principles when planning restoration. The degree to which each principle is achievable will vary on the basis of social and ecological context. By taking into account these comprehensive principles, trade-offs inherent in specialized projects are avoided, which increases the prospect of sustainable and valuable overall outcomes (see the figure).

1. Restoration increases ecological integrity. Restoration initiates or accelerates recovery of degraded areas by prioritizing the complexity of biological assemblages, including species composition and representation of all functional groups, as well as the features and processes needed to sustain these biota and to support ecosystem function.

2. Restoration is sustainable in the long term. Restoration aims to establish systems that are self-sustaining and resilient; thus, they must be consistent with their environmental context and landscape setting. Once a restoration project is complete, the goal should be to minimize human intervention over the long term. When intervention is required, it should be to simulate natural processes that the landscape no longer provides (e.g., fire or invasive species removal) or to support traditional practices of local communities.

3. Restoration is informed by the past and future. Historical knowledge, in its many forms, can indicate how ecosystems functioned in the past and can provide references for identifying potential future trajectories and measuring functional and compositional success of projects. However, the unprecedented pace and spatial extent of anthropogenic changes in the present era can create conditions that depart strongly from historical trends. Often, then, history serves less as a template and more as a guide for determining appropriate restoration goals.

4. Restoration benefits and engages society. Restoration focuses on recovering biodiversity and supporting the intrinsic value of nature. It also provides a suite of ecosystem services (e.g., improved water quality, fertile and stable soils, drought and flood buffering, genetic diversity, and carbon sequestration) that enhance human quality of life (e.g., clean water, food security, enhanced health, and effective governance). Restoration engages people through direct participation and, thus, increases understanding of ecosystems and their benefits and strengthens human communities.