The following article was written by grad student Brett Hartman, after much pestering from his esteemed editor. Mr. Hartman entered the UCSB Geography program in 2007 and is in the process of wrapping up his PhD on “The influence of social factors on land restoration success: Watershed rehabilitation and wet meadow (bofedal) restoration in the Bolivian Andes” with Oliver Chadwick and David Cleveland as his PhD committee co-chairs:
The Society for Ecological Restoration (SER) defines ecological restoration as "the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed" (SER, 2004). The field of restoration ecology is relatively new, having begun in the 1980s. However, our inclination to replant, restore, and renew the environment has deep historical and cultural roots. There is archeological and palynological evidence of massive reforestation efforts extending back to Incan (Chepstow-Lusty et al. 1998, Mosblech et al. 2012) and Roman civilizations (Hall 2005). It can even be argued that semi-nomadic hunter-gatherer societies, such as the Kayapó of Brazil, practiced a form of restoration when areas were managed and enhanced for periods of 20 years, and then 'abandoned' for 60 - 80 years as resources became depleted and they rotated through known productive hunting grounds (Posey 1984).
In modern times, two figures stand out as early progenitors of the field of restoration ecology: Richard St. Barbe Baker and Aldo Leopold. Richard St. Barbe Baker became known as 'the Man of the Trees.' He was born in the United Kingdom in 1889, and he became interested in issues of land degradation when he witnessed the large scale conversion of prairies and forests by European settlers in Saskatchewan, Canada. He went on to study forestry at Cambridge, and was appointed the Assistant Conservator of Forests in the British colonial service in Nigeria and Kenya. It was there that he helped form the Men of the Trees, starting with 50 Moran warriors who took a pledge to annually plant, protect and care for trees in order to stave of desertification. The Men of the Trees became an international society with Chapters in over 100 countries (eventually becoming the International Tree Foundation), and is responsible for the planting of many millions of trees. Here in California, Richard St. Barbe Baker is perhaps best known for his role in the Save the Redwoods campaign and his work with Theodore Roosevelt on the Civilian Conservation Corps.
Aldo Leopold is considered a founding figure of the conservation movement in the United States. Leopold engaged in what is now termed “intelligent tinkering”: with his family and several graduate students in tow, he endeavored to restore some 34 acres of degraded farmland in northern Wisconsin in the 1930s. This work inspired the essays that eventually were published as A Sand County Almanac, where he espoused the 'land ethic' that is foundational to western conservation thinking. Perhaps more importantly, Leopold was a professor of Game Management and Director of the Arboretum at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. He was instrumental in initiating the first scientifically based ecosystem restoration effort at the arboretum, restoring native tallgrass prairie. The systematic studies of this project contributed to the birth of the field of restoration ecology, heralded by the publication of Restoration Ecology: A synthetic approach to Ecological Research (Jordan et al., 1987). It was argued that the act of restoring ecosystems provides an ideal natural laboratory that serves as an 'acid test' to develop and test ecological theory.
So what does all of this have to do with geography? In truth, restoration ecology has probably benefitted much more from geography, and the proliferation of spatial analytic tools, than anything else. However, restoration ecology may yet return the favor, by contributing to human - environment research. With an increasing awareness that complex social factors shape restoration projects and ultimately influence restoration success, the emerging trend is to look at restoration ecology from a socioecological or human - environment perspective. This is especially true when restoration ecology is practiced in developing countries. In this setting, restoration ecology can provide a similar natural laboratory and 'acid test' for human - environment relations research. Much of human - environment relations research focuses on interrelationships that influence land degradation, land use change, and rural development processes. Local communities actively investing in ecosystem restoration provide an understudied linkage in the web of human- environment relations. What makes this type of research so exiting is that restoration projects are often implemented at landscape scales, with similar techniques utilized at local sites dotted across the landscape. This provides a natural experiment, complete with replication and control, with which to conduct quantitative research.
While attending a recent talk on education about restoration at the 5th World Conference on Ecological Restoration at the University of Wisconsin – Madison, I was delighted to note that research into ecology AND human - environment relations were cited among the justifications for restoration ecology. Hopefully, as we move into the future, we will see much more cross-fertilization between geography and restoration ecology!
- Chepstow-Lusty, A.J., K.D. Bennett, J. Fjeldså, A. Kendall, W. Galiano, and A.T. Herrera. 1998. Tracing 4,000 years of environmental history in the Cuzco area, Peru, from the pollen record. Mountain Research and Development 18(2):159-172.
- Hall, M. 2005. Earth Repair: A Transatlantic History of Environmental Restoration. University of Virginia Press, Charlottesville. 352 p.
- Leopold, A. 1949. A Sand County Almanac. Oxford University Press. 240 p.
- Mosblech, N.A.S., A. Chepstow-Lusty, B.G. Valancia, and M.B. Bush. 2012. Anthropogenic control of late holocene landscapes in the Cuzco region, Peru. The Holocene 22(12):1361-1372.
- Posey, D.A. 1984. A preliminary report on diversified management of tropical forests by the Kayapo Indians of the Brazilian Amazon. pp. 112-126 in: Prance, G.T. and J.A. Kallunki (eds.) Advances in Economic Botany, Vol. 1: Ethnobotany in the Neotropics: Symposium, Oxford, Ohio, USA, June 13-14, 1983. VIII+ 156p. The New York Botanical Garden, Bronx, New York.
- Society for Ecological Restoration (SER). 2004. The SER International Primer on Ecological Restoration. www.ser.org & Tucson: Society for Ecological Restoration International, International Science & Policy Working Group. 15 p.
- St. Barbe Baker, Richard (1985). My Life, My Trees. Forres, Scotland: Findhorn Press. 167 p.
Editor's note: Many thanks, and kudos, to Brett for FINALLY enlightening us on this subject!