Ecological restoration has been defined in a number of ways. Simply put, it is the process of assisting in the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged or destroyed.
Usually the damage has been caused directly or indirectly by human activities, although natural disasters can also cause or contribute to degradation. Ecosystems are highly complex systems that are continually changing, therefore the most successful restoration projects focus on reestablishing key ecosystem processes, and removing the sources of damage rather than seeking to engineer some final outcome. For example, most forested ecosystems depend on fire, to control excessive understory growth, kill insect pests and help seeds to germinate. Management that reintroduces or mimics the disturbance caused by fire therefore has a better chance of restoring the ecosystem, compared to simply planting a desired species of tree.
A common problem in ecological restoration is the question: what to restore to? Sometimes a historical state is desired, but in many cases we have lost the knowledge about what the landscape looked like before European settlement. In other cases, such as in heavily developed urban areas, this may not be a realistic objective. Furthermore, contrary to what early European settlers perceived, the ecosystems in BC (as elsewhere in North America) were extensively used and modified by First Nations. For example, in B.C. people used techniques such as prescribed fire, selective harvesting, plant propagation and pruning to increase the yields of plants used for food and medicine. Restoring a landscape to a historical condition therefore may also require the use of indigenous management strategies.
Recognizing the limitations of some highly modified landscapes, ecosystems can sometimes be restored to a new state, one that delivers benefits such as improved fish and wildlife habitat and recreational or cultural opportunities, even if it does note replicate a historical condition.
Implementing ecological restoration can be as simple as removing a cause of degradation, such as a dam, and letting natural processes effect recovery. It can also be as complex as the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, a project involving an 18,000 square mile area, a budget of $7.8 billion, and a time frame of 30 years.
The science of ecological restoration is gaining momentum. For example:
- Restoration concepts are being explored by and taught to conservation groups, First Nations, local and provincial government representatives and members of resource industries.
- Knowledge is shared internationally, through the internet and with conferences, for example through the Society for Ecological Restoration.
- The University of Victoria offers a diploma program in Restoration of Natural Systems.
Featured Local Restoration Projects
Bee Creek is a small stream in Colwood that flows into Esquimalt Lagoon. It supports resident cutthroat trout, but two dams in the stream prevented salmon and sea-run cutthroat trout from migrating up the stream. In the summer of 2005, a large dam was removed and the channel was reconstructed. Read more >>
Bowker Creek is an urban stream that flows from the University of Victoria to Oak Bay. Much of the stream has been enclosed in storm drains, and the remaining open sections have been highly modified to encourage drainage. Community members and local governments have been working hard to improve its water quality, riparian habitat and aesthetic and recreational values. Read more >>
Cecelia Creek was first enclosed in storm drains in the early part of the last century, and by the 1990s it was infamous for being one of the most polluted creeks in the Victoria area. Largely due to the involvement of the surrounding community, various businesses, government and community organizations came together to clean up the creek.
CRD Parks, in partnership with the District of Langford, the Goldstream Volunteer Salmon Enhancement Association and Fisheries and Oceans Canada, constructed “fishways” in Millstream Creek to enable spawning salmon to travel up the stream. Read more >>
Rock Bay is one of the most contaminated sites in British Columbia. With an estimated 85% of the foreshore and upland landscape polluted and requiring treatment. Remediation is scheduled to continue until approximately late 2016. Read more >>
Garry Oak Meadows
Garry oak meadows are one of the most endangered ecosystems in this region. Fortunately, many people have come to appreciate the importance of Garry oak meadows for biodiversity as well as for aesthetic and recreational opportunities. A number of governmental and community groups are actively protecting and restoring some of the remaining Garry oak ecosystems. Read more >>
- The Earth’s Blanket. Nancy Turner