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Blurring the boundaries…

Ecological Restoration
Vol. 24 Number 1
http://ecologicalrestoration.info/

Blurring the boundaries…

It is not my practice to dwell on the past but rather to focus on the future. However, I can’t help but think about the great strides ecological restoration and has made this past year.

Throughout 2005 I was pleasantly surprised to see ecological restoration mentioned or featured in engineering design and construction trade magazines, conservation journals, and sustainable design publications. It reinforces my perspective that the ‘boundaries are blurring’ between the disciplines of conservation, environmentally sustainable development and ecological restoration. It has to. Complex ecological problems often require integrated solutions. Conserving biodiversity, restoring critical habitat and living lightly on the land all play a vital role in reversing ecological degradation.

Take the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004 and the more recent Hurricane Katrina, which struck the gulf coast of the United States. Conserving mangroves or coastal wetlands alone will do little to save lives, infrastructure and thwart the power of these natural disasters in the future. Similarly, restoring mangroves, bottomland hardwood forests and river systems without ongoing conservation initiatives will also do little good in the long term. And finally, all the environmentally sustainable building measures in the world will be useless without a landscape that contains a balanced and integrated mix of gray and green infrastructure. No, what both of these regions need is an approach that combines all three of these disciplines. One that blurs the boundaries!

This past year we also saw ecological restoration begin to solidify its role in the exciting new discipline of ecological economics. First, at SER International’s 1st World Conference on Ecological Restoration in Zaragoza, Spain this past year Robert Costanza of the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics (http://www.uvm.edu/giee/) gave an inspiring, educational, and somewhat sobering account of the consequences of ignoring ecological systems in today’s global economy. It became apparent during the presentation that ecological restoration has an important, if not critical role to play in the future of ecological economics. Besides the fact that ecological restoration can replenish our diminishing supply of natural capital, it also has the potential to put thousands of people to work, to spur new technologies and to forge new alliances among peoples throughout the world.

Following on the footsteps of the World Conference, I had the opportunity to participate in two separate workshops focused on integrating the fields of economics and ecological restoration. On a local level, I took part in Revitalizing Communities through Integrated Restoration, a workshop sponsored in part by the Canaan Valley Institute in the United States. The workshop examined the possibilities of encouraging and empowering the growth of a restoration industry for the Appalachian Highlands, a rural and economically impoverished area of the eastern United States. What struck me most about his workshop was the genuine interest and enthusiastic response exhibited by local politicians, business leaders and community activists. Terms like ‘quality of life’ and ‘sense of place’ were actually being mentioned in the same sentence with economic growth and ecological restoration. Can ecological restoration arrest and reverse the impacts wrought by the extractive coal mining and logging industries? The Appalachian Highlands is betting it can.

On a more global level I also participated in an international symposium convened by James Aronson, James Bilgnaut, and Peter H. Raven on Global Strategies for Restoring Natural Capital, hosted by the Missouri Botanical Gardens in St. Louis, Missouri and sponsored in part by SER, International. This workshop included a gathering of ecologists, economists, entrepreneurs, and representatives from all over the globe to explore how natural capital, as a major growth industry, can be adequately and fully integrated with economics.

While the symposium focused on the accounting of sources, services, sinks and sites for natural goods and services, it also touched on what many may consider tangential issues but integral to the world’s economy, including human’s relationship with nature. The results of this symposium, the 2nd in a series, will be documented in a book to be published as part of SER’s book series by Island Press.

Clearly ecological restoration has an important role to play in our world’s future economy, conservation programs and sustainable design initiatives. Clearly blurring the boundaries between these disciplines is what is needed to help arrest and turn the tide on ecological degradation. Go ahead, plant a tree, save a panda and buy organic – blur the boundaries!

Keith Bowers, Chair
Society for Ecological Restoration International
www.ser.org

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