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The natural world. Looking pretty for 3.5b years.

Restoration: to repair, return, or recover something to its original condition

Author: Hugh Bollinger/Thursday, January 9, 2014/Categories: natural history, sustainability, environment

One of my first professional jobs after graduate school in ecology was to develop a plan to restore elk habitat near a mine site in western Colorado. In the 1970's, restoration ecology , hadn't even been defined as a separate area of ecological application yet so the project was a first attempt. For the project, I worked with a talented team of mufti-disciplinary geologists, biologists, hydrologists, and engineers all of whom brought different insights to accomplishing the goal of restoring habitat.

The mine managers was worried that their operations might harm a resident of population Rocky Mountain Elk if they came in contact with giant trucks and big pits. Our project required that we recreate suitable winter range well removed from the digging operations. The site was covered by vegetation that had become decadent from years of past mismanagement. We developed a 10-year plan to eliminate the overgrown vegetation, to allow young shoots to emerge from underground roots in hopes of drawing the elk away from the mine.

The Colorado project was experimental and we didn't know what might happen. However, the elk flourished on the restored rangeland, they avoided the mine so the operators were happy, our project became a university case-study in ecological restoration, and the company maintained the plan for years to come. Similar restoration projects were attempted in years after and produced excellent  elk restoration results in other locations nationwide.

One aspect of ecological restoration is that it can be undertaken successfully by people with diverse backgrounds if attention is paid to the parameters of the environment and clear goals set. Here's an example from Illinois:

I was reminded of all this after reading of a remarkable restoration effort by a private landowner in Hawaii.

After retiring from corporate management, Paul Zweng a geologist, acquired nearly 1500 acres in the Waikane Valley, a former military training range in Hawaii. His dream was to restore the landscape as it used to be---a diverse Hawaiian rainforest. Zweng set out to learn as much as he could about the valley's environment and native Hawaiian plants. When he purchased the tract, the forest was dominated by invasive trees including albizia and strawberry guava. His team of restorers began replacing them endemic Hawaiian koa trees and other native species.

Hawaiian Koa Tree (credit: Hawaiian Forests)              Apapane Bird (credit: Fish & Wildlife Service)

Their hope is that when the indigenous forest taking over from the eliminated invasive species, that native Hawaiian birds like the apapane may return to sing again in the restored forest. During the elk habitat restoration project all those years ago, one comment proved true then in Colorado and will likely be so in Hawaii: "if you have have the habitat, you'll have the wildlife."

To repair, return, or recover something to its original condition is the definition and goal of any restoration project. It is a worthy one at that and there are many opportunities for others to get involved in replicating similar results and experience the satisfaction of restoration.


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