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Know the West

Human rehabilitation


Restoration’s crisis in confidence” (HCN, 8/6/18) is a breath of fresh air. For far too long not only restoration’s promoters but also the media, foundations and government agencies that fund restoration projects have ignored the movement’s inherent contradictions, as well as its failure to deliver the “restoration” that has been promised.

The problem, however, is not climate change but rather the hubris of a species that claims to have the power to restore what it has destroyed. The evidence suggests otherwise: Humans can rehabilitate the damage we, or events like hurricanes and floods, cause. Restoration, however, is a natural process that humans do not, and perhaps cannot, fully understand, but which we can easily damage. As pointed out in the article, in an age of climate change, we humans do not even understand where natural restoration is headed.

Take this summer’s Western wildfires: They are nature’s way of readjusting vegetation in response not only to climate change but also to what we humans have wrought in the West’s forests via clear-cutting and “thinning,” which actually increase rather than decrease fire risks in all but the short term. But no one knows what the future landscape, shaped by these new types of fires, will look like.

Modern ecosystem restoration got its start with efforts in Northern California to bring back the salmon by rehabilitating the damage done by logging roads and old forest liquidation logging during the middle part of the 20th century. Somewhere along the line, that effort was co-opted by state and federal agencies, which now use restoration as mitigation for allowing damaging logging, ranching and water-management practices to continue. The salmon have not recovered.

I hope High Country News will continue to closely and critically examine restoration as currently practiced in the West, debunking the false and exaggerated claims of its proponents, exposing its flaws, missteps and failures, as well as celebrating real achievements. HCN should also take the lead in correcting the language that conditions how we look at the natural world. Since it is actually nature, not humans, that effects restoration, let’s call what we humans do out there to help by its proper name: rehabilitation.

Felice Pace
Klamath, California