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The Cost of Restoration

Ecological Restoration
Vol. 24 Number 3
http://ecologicalrestoration.info/

The Cost of Restoration

How many times have you heard, “It’s too costly to do ecological restoration”? Or, “it’s best to invest the money in conservation rather then restoration initiatives”. I know I have run across these sentiments more than enough times. Typically my first reaction is to say, ‘more costly than what’? More costly than doing nothing, I suppose. More costly than using conventional means to supplement the functions and values supported by the ecosystem that I am attempting to restore? Sometimes, I guess. But is it more costly when I begin to consider all of the intrinsic values (natural, social and economic capital) that a restoration project yields. Or the true lifecycle costs (resource extraction, climate change, health care, pollution abatement, etc.) associated with substituting an artificial system for a restored ecosystem. Or the hidden costs of missed opportunities and the temporally invisible decay of natural areas by well intentioned conservation initiatives. Now that ecological restoration is becoming a critical, if not absolutely necessary component in our quest to rescue degraded ecosystems and save the world’s biodiversity, it is also garnering ever increasing scrutiny from the public, including economists, administrators and politicians, among others. This welcomed attention brings along with it the need to provide these decision makers with accurate information about the true benefits and costs of restoration.

Just think, a storehouse of information pertaining to the costs and benefits of ecological restoration could serve many uses. It would allow proponents (and opponents) to research both the direct and indirect costs of a proposed restoration project. It would allow someone to benchmark a proposed restoration action with other similar actions to evaluate the efficacy of a restoration program. It would also provide politicians with the justification to support ecological restoration initiatives as an alternative to more conventional projects. Most of all, it will help convince a weary public accustomed to instant gratification that the intrinsic benefits of ecological restoration are well worth it.

Of course there are some hurdles to overcome. Ecological restoration projects tend to be very site specific, embedded in local site conditions, social customs and cultural norms. This may make it difficult to compare and generalize about the costs of ecological restoration over a larger geographic or cultural expanse. It is also somewhat problematic, though certainly not impossible to develop a life cycle analysis of what it takes to perform and implement an ecological restoration project versus a conventional project, or better yet, a do nothing approach. Likewise, it is also challenging but not unattainable to assign economic values to natural capital, like clean air, clean water, and healthy soil.

So where do we start. Well for one, the Society for Ecological Restoration International’s new web based portal – the Global Restoration Network, could become the perfect repository for such information. Imagine a place where practitioners, researchers and government agencies could both submit and acquire information on the economic costs of various ecological restoration projects in different geographic regions. Where life cycle cost analysis methodologies and results could be housed. Or where information from leading ecological economists could be found on the values of natural capital.

How much does it cost to restore a hectare of prairie, a kilometer of river, or a community of rare plants? Do these costs outweigh the intrinsic benefits? Will this information aid in more informed choices concerning our future land use decisions. Hopefully all of these answers are right around the corner.

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

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