Ecological Restoration

This discussion topic submitted by Michael Bramlage ( at 6:40 pm on 7/31/99. Additions were last made on Wednesday, May 7, 2014.

One does not have to spend a great deal of time in the outdoors to notice damaged landscapes. There are constant reminders of man's destructive capabilities everywhere in the natural world. Unfortunately, the tropical rainforests of Costa Rica are no exception. While we cannot change the situations that resulted in the damaged landscape, we can do our part to restore them as best as possible after the damage is done.

Many of the forests have been lost in the area near Corcovado National Park

The discipline of ecological restoration is a relatively new field but the results of such practices can be very beneficial. There is a tremendous upside to ecological restoration and we are just beginning to scratch the surface. Below is some information on this topic that I presented in Costa Rica.

I. Ecological Restoration
A. Definitions/Terminology
1. Ecological- the interaction of all living organisms in a particular area; encompassing and complex and thus hard to know fully
2. Restoration- put back into the natural state
a) very difficult to define the "natural state"
b) what to restore to, the extent (pre-settlement, 100 years ago?)
3. James G. Wyant defines ecological restoration to include (1) the identification of ecologically and socially disirable ecosystem values, goods, and services, as determined through a number of scientific and public-input mechanisms (2) identification of the functional and structural elements essential to a self-sustaining system that will provide those values and (3) facilitation of ecosystem recovery to a self-sustaining state by manipulation of the physical, biological, chemical, and even social or cultural elements of the system.
4. The American Society for Ecological Restoration defined restoration as "the intentional alteration of a site to establish a defined indigenous, historic ecosystem. The goal of this process is to emulate the structure, functioning, diversity, and dynamics of the specified ecosystem."

B. Background/Reasons for Ecological Restoration
1. Deforestation- Costa Rica has the highest rate of deforestation in Central America. Forests originally covered 99.8% of the country, but now cover less than 30%. It is driven by the demand for land and not timber harvesting. Deforestation was very evident and easy to see while driving through Costa Rica. 2. Maintenance of Biodiversity- the preservation/conservation of land and organisms has changed recently. We have gone from an organismic approach to a more wholistic, ecosystem approach. The shift has been from save the whales or quetzals to save the whales and the quetzals habitat!
3. Erosion/Sedimentation

C. Status of Ecological Restoration
1. One could say that the discipline is in the "trial and error" phase because no guidelines have been set to govern ecological restoration
2. There is heavy government intervention in Costa Rica.
3. We must guard against "restorationism" or lack of action in place of "true restoration" or action.
4. The application of restoration efforts needs to incorporate the locals. In the case of Costa Rica, agriculture and ranching must be incorporated into reforestation. There are many monocultures (balsa, teak) being used as restoration in Costa Rica, but these are not true full-functioning ecosystems.
5. Guanacaste National Park is a dry forest in NW Costa Rica that had been damaged by deforestation (burning, overcutting, overgrazing, and farming). A man by the name of D. H. Janzen has pioneered the restoration efforts of this park. He was able to convince the community of the benefits of a healthy area, and he was able to include them in the effort. He was able to recolonize the area by hand seeding. Today the park is a full-functioning ecosystem that resembles the land prior to the extensive deforestation.

As we become more familiar with the intricacies of a functioning ecosystem we will be able to restore them more adequately. Of course there is no substitute for preventing the need to restore in the first place. We must all continue to learn and stress the importance of our natural areas so that we can just let nature run its course.


Cairns, J. Jr. 1991. The status of the theoretical and applied science of restoration ecology. The Environmental Professional, Vol. 13, 186-194.

Henry, P.H. 1995. Restoration ecology of riverine wetlands...a scientific base. Environmental Management Vol. 19, No. 6, 891-902.

Higgs, E.S. 1995. What good is ecological restoration? Conservation Biology, Vol. 11, No. 2, 338-348.

Thomas, J.M. 1992. Restoration and the Western tradition. Restoration and Management Notes, 169-175.

Westman, W.E. 1991. Ecological restoration projects: measuring their performance. The Environmental Professional, Vol. 13, 207-215.

Wyant, J.G. 1995. A planning and decision-making framework for ecological restoration. Environmental Management, Vol. 19, No. 6, 789-796.

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