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What is ecological or ecosystem restoration?

Ecological restoration looks to repair and heal the land as well as our relationship with it.  It is an intentional activity that helps to sustain the diversity of life on Earth and re-establish an ecologically healthy relationship between nature and people. Restoration is an active choice people make to address the negative effects of human activity, or natural causes, on an ecosystem.

Often, areas that require restoration have been degraded, damaged, or destroyed as the result of human activities. In some cases, natural occurrences such as wildfires, floods, storms, or volcanic eruption aggravate ecosystems to a point at which the ecosystem cannot recover without intervention.

Yeah, but, what does all that actually mean?

Restoration is about healing ecosystems. Sometimes, removing human made additions to an ecosystem is all it takes for nature to launch an independent recovery. Removing a dam returns a waterway to its original state, allowing salmon or a historical flooding system to return. Controlling erosion caused by natural elements or human activity, like construction or logging, can help preserve soil integrity. Removing invasive plants can make space for native plants to reestablish a presence.

At EarthCorps, about 80% of our restoration work involves native species support. By addressing non-native plants in our sites, we can begin to heal ecosystems through planting native trees and plants.

So why is native species support important?

Native plants and animals have evolved in their environment. This coevolution has led to ecosystems that can support a wide variety of life. The ecosystem benefits of native plants include:

  • Better water quality
  • Nutrient-rich soil less prone to erosion
  • High-quality and largely available food, shelter, nest sites, basking sites, and perches for animals
  • Preservation of culturally significant food systems, ceremonial rites, medicines, and community structures for indigenous peoples of the area

How do invasive plants affect biodiversity?

Invasive species are often introduced to environments through colonization and globalization. They can threaten the biodiversity of an ecosystem by outcompeting native species. They are often particularly adept at establishing thriving monocultures in degraded environments where native species have been damaged or removed entirely.

It is important to note that not all non-native species act in an invasive way. However, those that do can have long-term effects on the health of native plants, habitats, and animals. For example, native pollinators in an area that depend on a specific early-flowering plant or a mammal that depends on the roots of a native plant for winter food can be negatively impacted by the dominance of invasive species that provide neither early season flowers or winter forage.

Why does our work matter?

We know that communities with high biodiversity recover more quickly from environmental stresses and disturbances and offer more ecosystem services (the positive benefits that ecosystems provide to humans and nonhumans) like the ones mentioned above. Therefore, we work hard to support our native species and manage invasive species present in the ecosystems found in the Puget Sound and beyond.