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Know the West

Restoration evolution


"Ecological restoration" has a good ring to it. So good, in fact, that the two words are used by everyone from the environmentalists at The Nature Conservancy to the heads of America's biggest corporations. While conservation groups look to restoration as a way to hasten the recovery of native ecosystems harmed by agriculture or industry, developers tout the construction of new wetlands as a way to replace existing wetlands, bulldozed to make way for roads or homes.

But even practitioners of restoration remain unsure of its limits, and many environmentalists are skeptical of its ultimate value. Can restored or constructed wetlands ever size up to "natural" ones lost to development? Do we know enough about ponderosa pine forests, for example, to rebuild these systems after they have been degraded by logging and grazing? Is it arrogant to think we can wreck natural systems and then engineer them back to health?

In his new book, The Sunflower Forest: Ecological Restoration and the New Communion with Nature, William R. Jordan III answers these critiques. Pulling from over two decades of restoration experience at the University of Wisconsin, Jordan lays out a powerful vision for a new environmental ethic, with ecological restoration at its core. While he admits that restoration hasn't succeeded on every front, Jordan believes that the sometimes humbling act of trying to re-create natural communities helps us understand our active role in shaping the natural world.