Watershed Restoration: Principles and Practices

Chapter 25: Learning to Live Within the Limits of the Land: Lessons Learned from the Watershed Restoration Case Studies

C. A. Wood, J. E. Williams, and M. P. Dombeck

doi: https://doi.org/10.47886/9781888569049.ch25

The relationship between human society and the ecological systems upon which we depend often seems combative. We extract food, fiber, and water from natural habitats in increasing amounts while seeking technological fixes to watershed damage, endangered species crises, and invasions of exotic species. Homes and businesses are built in floodplains only to be hit by 100-year flood events that seem to occur at increasing frequencies and with ever more devastating consequences: witness recent floods in Idaho and North Dakota and along the Mississippi River. Forests are dissected with roads, logged, and replanted until they become even-aged monocultural stands of timber that are, in turn, susceptible to catastrophic wildfire, erosion, and disease.

Our failure to consider the long-term consequences of how societal decisions can diminish the health, diversity, and productivity of the land has profound effects. A more harmonious relationship is needed for human society to prosper into the future (Cairns 1997, this volume). Watershed restoration provides a means to achieve this harmony. Effective restoration entails restoring structure and function to our natural surroundings by integrating ecological principles with a deeper understanding of ways that social and cultural mores influence how people use the land (Preister and Kent 1997, this volume). Restoration ecology is a broadening discipline that includes ecology, politics, economics, and sociology (Cairns and Heckman 1996). Our knowledge of the ecological principles that support restoration has advanced to the point that the Society for Ecological Restoration, formed in 1992, publishes a journal, Restoration Ecology, dedicated to the ecological science of restoration.