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Advancing Toward “Eden”

Wayne Tyson

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There are two ways to exploit natural systems. Rip-off or restore. While self-serving euphemisms (e.g., "green," "sustainability," "reforestation," and "the" ecology) may be as repulsive to purists as they are appealing to reformers and spin-hypers alike, they do serve the purpose of laying a stone or two toward bridging the gap between the rampant masses and the enlightened. So what's the next stepping stone between scientific understanding, applications that work, and broad enough acceptance of the implications of the applications and the science behind them? In most of my work (highway cuts and fills, pipelines, landfills, and the like), "equilibrium" is not an issue. The patient is, theoretically, dead. Therefore, equilibrium, or at least the initiation and acceleration of a trend that is in that direction, becomes the issue. The issue is: "Is restoration necessary?" What measures beyond the incredible resilience of natural processes, given enough time, are feasible, and will restoration of the ecosystem equilibrium be the result? How closely will, and how closely can, the "restored" ecosystem resemble the "original?" When is equilibrium achieved? The scientifically stringent performance criteria proposed independently by both St. John and Ewel in the 1980s require that a succesful ecosystem restoration project must: (1) be capable of perpetuating itself without outside subsidy (no irrigation or fertilizer); (2) be resistant to long-term weed invasion; (3) closely match the original ecosystem's productivity; (4) recycle nutrients; and (5) exhibit the entire range of critical biological components. These criteria should stand until improved. How are these criteria to be measured and judged? Any takers?

Key words

ecological restoration, ecosystem restoration, environmental policy, exploitation, futurism, habitat restoration, intervention, natural systems, resilience, succession, sustainability
Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087