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Ecological Restoration

Restoration uses the past not as a goal but as a reference point for the is not to turn back the evolutionary clock, but to set it ticking again."

—Don Falk, 1990. "Discovering the Future, Creating the Past: Some Reflections on Restoration"

Forest management agencies and communities in proximity to forests hope to reduce the risk of catastrophic fire by adopting new management practices. Management plans based on ecological restoration concepts show promise for solving many of the problems facing western forests.

Looking at various definitions of ecological restoration helps to show how ecological restoration differs from the older land-use philosophies of utilitarianism, conservation, and preservation.

“Ecological restoration means regaining the natural characteristics of ecosystems that have been damaged by overuse, pollution, or neglect.” – Ecological Restoration Institute

"Re-establishing to the extent possible the structure, function and integrity of indigenous ecosystems and the sustaining habitats they provide.” – Society for Ecological Restoration

"The practice of reestablishing the historic plant and animal communities of a given area or region and the renewal of the ecosystem and cultural functions necessary to maintain these communities now and into the future.” – Dave Egan

“I define restoration as everything we do to a landscape or an ecosystem in an ongoing attempt to compensate for novel or “outside” influences in such a way that it can continue to behave, or can resume behaving, as if these were not present.” – William Jordan III

There is no one-size-fits-all restoration regimen. Effective restoration treatments depend upon scientific studies of specific local forest conditions. Studies of historic reference conditions indicate what forest structures and functions were present prior to recent human activity.

Decisions regarding the selection of reference conditions, while based on science, will also involve political interests. Building consensus among the variety of interested parties is often a contentious process. William Jordan suggests that restoration involves a “studied disregard for human interests.” But restoration does not preclude human interests. Economic interests may be compatible with some local restoration efforts. Local democratic participation is a vital component of restoration.


Ecological Restoration Institute. "What is Ecological Restoration?" 3/31/03. How to apply ecological restoration to Western ponderosa pine ecosystems.

Falk, Donald A.. 1990. Discovering the future, creating the past: some reflections on restoration. Restoration and Management Notes 8(2):71-72.

Friederici, Peter. 2003. Healing the region of pines: Forest restoration in Arizona's Uinkaret Mountains. Pages 197-214 in Friederici, Peter, ed. 2003. Ecological Restoration of Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests : A Sourcebook for Research and Application. Washington, D.C. Island Press. An uncommonly well-funded project driven largely by ecological considerations still reveals both logistical and ecological complexities.

Friederici, Peter, ed. 2003. Ecological Restoration of Southwestern Ponderosa Pine Forests : A Sourcebook for Research and Application. Washington, D.C. Island Press, 544 p.

Jordan, William R. III. The Sunflower Forest: Ecological Restoration and the New Communion with Nature. 2003. Berkeley: University of California Press. The historical and philosophical context of ecological restoration.

Society for Ecological Restoration International Science & Policy Working Group. 2002. "The SER Primer on Ecological Restoration." 3/31/03. Ecological restoration principles in detail.

Other resources

Center for Biological Diversity. Fire and Ecosystem Health. 4/1/03. Outlines the Center’s recommendations on ponderosa pine ecosystem restoration – thinning small diameter trees, leaving large fire-resistant trees, and reintroducing natural fire occurrence.

Covington, Wallace W. "Restoring Ecosystem Health in Ponderosa Pine Forests of the Southwest." Land Use History of North America: Colorado Plateau (CP-LUHNA). 4/1/03. A synopsis of Dr. Covington's scientific rationale for ecological restoration of ponderosa forests based on the pre-settlement reference model.

Grand Canyon Trust. "Forest Restoration." 2001-2003. <ttp:// 4/1/03. This website, through the efforts of the Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership, seeks to educate the public about the necessity of ecological restoration in the Flagstaff, Arizona area. GFFP attempts to form consensus between various government agencies, environmental groups, Northern Arizona University, and local citizens.

Greater Flagstaff Forests Partnership. "Ecological Restoration Projects." 4/1/03. Describes several specific restoration projects proposed and underway in the Flagstaff, Arizona area. The site as a whole offers more general information on restoration and the Partnership. Also see Grand Canyon Trust above.

National Parks Conservation Association. "Grand Canyon National Park: Forest Ecosystem Restoration Research." 4/1/03. Adocates a “cautious approach” to restoration in Grand Canyon National Park. NPCA opposes the pre-settlement reference model that, according to NPCA, allows too many trees to be cut.

New Academy for Nature and Culture. 4/1/03. Contact point for William Jordan, III and the New Academy. Jordan is one of the foremost conceptual developers of “ecological restoration” -  a term he coined.

Society for Ecological Restoration International. 2003. 4/1/03. The Journal Ecological Restoration covers a broad range of case studies, field science, and community issues.

Society for Ecological Restoration International. 4/1/03. Contacts and links to a variety of information and events around issues of ecological restoration.

Southwest Forest Alliance. 4/1/03. SWFA advocates a “conservative” approach to restoration in the Flagstaff, Arizona area, thinning some small diameter trees while preserving old growth.

United States Geological Survey. "Forest and Woodland Restoration." 4/1/03. Gives a brief non-scientific explanation of the role of restoration in Southwest forests. Provides references to research.

Last edited June 25, 2003

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NAU's Program in Community, Culture and Environment Northern Arizona University