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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Environmental restoration

Environmental restoration is a term common in the citizens’ environmental movement. Environmental restoration is closely allied with (or perhaps sometimes used interchangeably with) ecological restoration or environmental remediation. In the U.S., remediation is the term used more in the realms of industry, public policy, and the civil services.

In the 1987 edition of his book Restoring the Earth: How Americans are Working to Renew our Damaged Environment, scientific editor and writer John J. Berger defined environmental restoration (or “natural resource restoration”) as follows: "… A process in which a damaged resource is renewed. Biologically. Structurally. Functionally."

Natural environment

In relation to the natural environment, the old adage an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure tends to be fitting. On the other hand, with the growth of human populations in the world, and the associated impacts, the need for ecological restoration has become increasingly clear. The venerable saying just quoted merely points to the fact that ecological restoration is not always successful (within time spans that tend to please people) and, when feasible, is often difficult and quite consuming of time, effort, and money. Environmental restoration is often neglected, either being overlooked or being deemed inexpedient or of a low priority. However, in much of the industrialized world, it has been increasingly demanded by the public, at least since the early 1970s if not before.

The interest and activity in environmental restoration has given rise to a new branch of research and applied techniques within biology, restoration ecology.

Environmental restoration has been applied in aquatic situations (lakes, streams, rivers, wetlands, etc.) and terrestrial ones (grasslands, forests, deserts, flatlands, hill country, mountain slopes, etc.).


Environmental restoration involves many different approaches and technologies depending on the requirements of the situation. It can involve heavy equipment like cranes, graders, bulldozers, or excavators, and also hand processes like the planting of trees and other vegetation. It can involve high-tech processes such as those applied in the careful environmental control required in fish-hatchery procedures. Today, computerized regulation is often being utilized in these processes. Computer-based mapping has also become an important dimension of restorative work, as has computer modeling.

In some situations, environmental restorative work is handled entirely by professionals working with skilled operators and technicians. In others, ordinary local community members ("laypeople") may do much of the work, acquiring skills as the project proceeds.

There is a social or humanitarian dimension to this topic that may not always be obvious. There is a well-worn saying "Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day, teach him to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime," which could easily be augmented to include: "Teach him and his neighbors how to restore the fish habitat and increase local fish stocks, and you feed the neighborhood for the future."

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