A taste of ecological medicine

  • Nature's Restoration: People and Places on the Front Lines of Conservation

 

In Nature’s Restoration, writer and naturalist Peter Friederici transports the reader to six ecologically damaged landscapes, from Bermuda to Arizona, that people are struggling to restore. Some of the challenges derive from the painstaking work inherent in restoration: plant by plant, species by species, two steps forward, one step back.

Friederici also examines the conundrums re-creating nature can pose, such as the controversy over decommissioning Glen Canyon Dam. Friederici provides a taste of what an unsubmerged Glen Canyon would look like when he boats through Cathedral in the Desert, “an airy chamber at once confined and soaring, a womblike place, almost subterranean.” But before you get too attached to a free Colorado River, he introduces Joan Nevills-Staveley, who grew up running the river and now survives off Lake Powell tourists. She rages at the thought of sending reservoir waters downriver and destroying Page’s economy.

While it’s easy to pick a side in some of these clashes, others leave us scratching our heads. American chestnuts that contain a percentage of Chinese chestnut genes better withstand blight. Does it count as restoration if we introduce exotic species into the mix? Should we rely on fire to thin the Southwest’s choked ponderosa pine forests? Or should we invite economic interests to the table by allowing a pellet manufacturer to log the trees to feed efficient stoves?

In most cases, Friederici makes his allegiances clear by virtue of the characters he focuses on. He quotes the prominent restorationist Steve Packard, who says, “People think nature means leave it alone. But it doesn’t. Etymologically it means, ‘It reproduces itself.’ ” Packard speaks these words in front of a patch of invasive buckthorn, which, left alone, swiftly crowded out the native plants.

Although none of the places Friederici visits will ever take care of itself, we need not wallow in despair. Restoration equals “ecological medicine,” Friederici insists, the fulfillment of an obligation to heal the wounds we have inflicted. And it also provides a chance for fun and learning for those who are willing to work towards the health of their surroundings. “Restoration might just make life more meaningful,” Friederici suggests, “helping them discover new depths in their surroundings, in other people, and in themselves.”

Nature’s Restoration: People and Places on the Front Lines of Conservation

Peter Friederici

320 pages, hardcover: $25.95.

Island Press, 2006.