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Ecosystem Restoration Part 2: New Dialogues Needed

August 2, 2013Patrick NunnallyRiversComments Off on Ecosystem Restoration Part 2: New Dialogues Needed

Yesterday’s post offered big, perhaps unanswerable, questions about restoration of ecosystems.  In many respects, our responses to these questions arise as much from some of our core beliefs and values, about the nature of community and responsibility, indeed, the “nature of nature” as they come from our scientific knowledge.

So here’s the thing: powerful responses to questions like these require the development of new ways of thinking and talking.  For example, at one of the conference sessions I attended, the question was raised: “How much ecosystem restoration on the Upper Mississippi River is enough?  How do we know we’re making progress?”  Well, if the answer is posed solely to politicians and managers, the answer might be a variation of “However much we can afford.”  Biologists, on the other hand, may be tempted to respond, “We need to restore enough in order to respond to  these basic questions about biological patterns and indicator species, which could take several decades to answer.”  Local members of the community may think that preserving enough habitat so there will be important experiences, say birdwatching for example, or duck hunting, will be preserved for generations, is enough.

The point is, these are not necessarily mutually exclusive responses, but they almost never are shared, given the present state of fragmented and often opaque discussions about the future of places that we think are important.  All of these groups have to weigh in, and they have to learn to speak together so they can be mutually understood.

I’m not so idealistic that I think this can happen overnight, but I am of a belief that such inclusive, sustainable conversations can be encouraged and developed.  Maybe it will take some time: the next generation of ecosystem restoration specialists will have to be scientists who tell stories and poets who know how ecosystems work.  And both segments will have to be able to make their arguments transparent to the people who manage money and policy.  It won’t be enough, isn’t enough now, really, just to articulate that people care deeply about a particular place.  How can that deeply felt sense of place be articulated in such a way that planning processes are affected and funding decisions altered?

Hard questions, but maybe necessary to shaping the world we want to live in.

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