Toward an Era of Restoration in Ecology: Successes, Failures, and Opportunities Ahead

Given the many discussions we’ve had on this blog concerning the top of restoration, this new research from Katharine N. Suding, Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management at the University of California, Berkeley should be of great interest to readers.  The title of the paper is “Toward an Era of Restoration in Ecology: Successes, Failures, and Opportunities Ahead” (PDF copy here).  Below is a teaser from the Abstract (emphasis added). – mk

As an inevitable consequence of increased environmental degradation and anticipated future environmental change, societal demand for ecosystem restoration is rapidly increasing. Here, I evaluate successes and failures in restoration, how science is informing these efforts, and ways to better address decision-making and policy needs. Despite the multitude of restoration projects and wide agreement that evaluation is a key to future progress, comprehensive evaluations are rare. Based on the limited available information, restoration outcomes vary widely. Cases of complete recovery are frequently characterized by the persistence of species and abiotic processes that permit natural regeneration. Incomplete recovery is often attributed to a mixture of local and landscape constraints, including shifts in species distributions and legacies of past land use. Lastly, strong species feedbacks and regional shifts in species pools and climate can result in little to no recovery. More forward-looking paradigms, such as enhancing ecosystem services and increasing resilience to future change, are exciting new directions that need more assessment. Increased evidence-based evaluation and cross-disciplinary knowledge transfer will better inform a wide range of critical restoration issues such as how to prioritize sites and interventions, include uncertainty in decision making, incorporate temporal and spatial dependencies, and standardize outcome assessments. As environmental policy increasingly embraces restoration, the opportunities have never been greater.

4 thoughts on “Toward an Era of Restoration in Ecology: Successes, Failures, and Opportunities Ahead”

  1. Thanks for posting, Matthew.

    I particularly liked this quote:

    Some training programs—for both scientists and practitioners—are beginning to emphasize
    spanning science-practice boundaries. At present it is common to train graduate students interested in restoration research in ecological theory and analytical approaches relevant to traditional experimental designs. However, in restoration research, the input of practitioners and policy makers with first-hand experience and in-depth knowledge is crucial if the research is to demonstrate ecological validity. One way to achieve this partnership is to supplement theoretical and analytical training with internships (as is done in other applied contexts, such as medicine, teaching, and engineering). Internships create situations in which faculty, students, and practitioners develop relations that can spawn win-win cycles of knowledge via measurement (faculty and student research) and experience (linking the research to real-world practice) (Bartunek 2007).

    It reminded me of how the academics at Oregon State always told me they learned so much from teaching Silviculture Institute to practitioners. Different words, same idea.

    • Yes! Yes! Yes! I’ve tried to advocate for cross training for a while. Unfortunatel to no avail. “That’s a good idea” you’ll hear, but no one is willing to run with it and make it happen.

      Most professional organizations/affiliations require some form of continuing education/training. Why doesn’t the FS?? I realize there are some postions that require recertification, but for the most part the folks who influence a project the most have no cross training or certification requirements. Why?

      The result is that you may have a wildlife biologist that has no frame of reference or “mental slide”, if you will, to what a proposed veg. management/restoration/logging project will look like following treatment. How an that be? How can they make a determination? Reliance completely on literature and “science” without ever seeing firsthand the results of your work is BS. Continual turnover in a lot of places ensures that.

      The same can be said for many disciplines. I think everyone who would have any influence over a veg. management/restoration/logging project should have to mark timber for at least a season and have the opportunity to go back and evaluate the results. before being allowed to contribute towards another project….that would be a start anyway.

      Not to harp on veg. projects….everyone should cross train and be at least fluent in the needs of each discipline involved in public land managemt. Not the case in my experience, and quite honestly I think it bogs an already inefficient planing process down even further when you have to continually bring folks up to speed.

      • As per “cross training,” I’m not against it in general, but I don’t think it would work well since the Forest Service prides itself on its specialists, most of whom have at least a Master Degree. And the work that is done is quite specialized. [UPDATE: My experience in the Forest Service was at the Supervisors Office, Regional Office, and Washington Office level. So this perspective against “cross-training” may be biased by my experience. Maybe the idea has more utility at the District level.]

        On the other hand, in the USFS Intermountain Region some years ago a few of us instigated a little forum we called “Beyond Functionalism,” where we spent time talking across disciplines about policy and practice. It lasted for a year or two. It worked well for a while, but I think we ruffled too many feathers among the Intermountain Region top brass (RF and Directors) since our effort was self-initiated and self-directed and they didn’t feel we kept them “in the loop.” So the effort died out too quickly in my opinion.

        And then there is the idea, from the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), that requires interdisciplinary teams to work to address social and environmental aspects of federal action. From the law:

        Utilize a systematic, interdisciplinary approach which will insure the integrated use of the natural and social sciences and the environmental design arts in planning and in decisionmaking which may have an impact on man’s environment

        Note the reference to “environmental design arts.” Where has any of this gained traction? I remember when the Forest Service began to use “Landscape Architects,” yet another specialty, to hide clear cuts, to make sure they were “Beyond the Beauty Strip“. But that is another issue for another time. So many issues, so little time!

  2. Back in the 90’s, we did some cross-training with “Ologists”, to promote a more unified view of what we were doing at the time, which was widespread bark beetle salvage. For four years, we didn’t harvest any green timber. We had “armies” of folks doing field surveys, as most of the Ranger District was under a salvage sale, or an existing green sale (where the purchaser had salvage lives). Some of us timber folks did spotted owl surveys, and the Ologists were trained in how landing and skid trails are located, how operations were monitored, and how the process of logging and mitigation works. Most of those temporary employee Ologists were skeptical of logging but, had new respect for the many skills needed to reduce impacts and identify mitigation.

    Later in my career, I worked side by side with a wildlife biologists and an archeologist in marking timber. They very much enjoyed the power and responsibility that came with using a paintgun to shape the future of those forests. Indeed, one has plenty of leeway and “discretion” to sculpt and shape an overstocked unhealthy stand into a better functioning, resilient forest ecosystem. Indeed, it is very easy to get behind the idea of “thinning from below”, and enhancing the present and future old growth. Sadly, it takes most people a year, or more, to acquire the experience and knowledge to be a competent timbermarker. I’ve seen past attempts at trying to reduce that time but, using only diameters as selection criteria is NOT the way to pick your trees.

    I have participated in several goshawk and spotted owl surveys, myself, and would recommend the experience to anyone. It is important that timber folks understand and respect the Ologists, and defer to their educated expertise.


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