Ecological Restoration, Meet Climate Change

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As the climate shifts, do new trees need to become our go-to species? Photo Credit: Oliver Kellhammer

Ecological restoration is a worthy cause. It’s a process of healing the land, restoring water flow and building soil.

It’s also focused on the reintroduction of native species, generally because these species are well adapted to the climate and soil conditions of a particular area.

Native planting to restore native ecosystems sounds very wholesome, and it is.

It can restore processes and species that had been gone for a long time, but is restoration always the answer?

Climate Change Will Shift Restoration’s Assumptions

Restoration theoretically provides many benefits, but it also rests on a few assumptions. One is the assumption of resilience.

We’ve gotten used to the idea that we can do things to an ecosystem, leave it alone, and it will eventually bounce back.

This idea doesn’t always work, but it works often enough to allow us to rely on it. In the Pacific Northwest, for example, giant trees were cut down, and a new temperate rainforest grew in its place. It probably isn’t exactly the same, but it’s a close facsimile.

Another assumption is that of reliability. The people, plants, and animals that live in ecosystems around the world are used to a reliable climate. In the Pacific Northwest, the rains come in the middle of September. This allows the salmon to migrate upstream, and it allows the drought-parched forests to restore themselves to their mossy glory.

All of these assumptions fall down as the climate shifts. What happens to native trees as the winters get warmer? In central British Columbia, what happens is that a little beetle is able to survive the winter, and the pine forests fall as a result.

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