In some of my posts I have mentioned that my day job
is running a environmental restoration program for a non-profit in four counties in the south Puget Sound. But I realized that I have never shared any pictures of what that looks like or much of my thoughts on restoration. I thought I would share a few pics and comments about my on going restoration projects. Before I do I want do dive into a discussion about ecological restoration.
So what is restoration? Well that is hard to define and even in the academic world of restoration ecology it is often heavily debated. There are two major schools of thought in the restoration community
- these are restoration of structure and restoration of function. Structure refers to the plant/animal community that lives in a specific place. In this school of thought you aim to restore a degraded landscape to mimic a past state - often this past state is pre-settlement by people
of European decent. Function refers to what a habitat does - provide a home for wildlife, clean the air and water
, sequester carbon
, build soil, etc. In this school of thought there is less emphasis put on restoring the exact plant/animal community that used to live in that place but instead focus on restoring the functions that were likely provided by the habitat before it was degraded. Sometimes instead of focusing on the past this school of thought will identify functions that are seen as lacking or missing and try to create those at the site - this is often referred to as enhancement instead of restoration.
In my view permaculture
practitioners often fall within the function school of thought and a lot of the frustration with restoration ecology among some permaculturalists is due to the people in restoration ecology that are part of the structure school of thought. But in my own career working in restoration I have found that the majority of practicing restoration ecologists, like myself are fully within the function school of thought.
That being said both schools of thought generally limit ourselves to native plants
only. However, recently there has been some exploration to using plants that are not strictly native but are located not very far away. So in my area (south Puget Sound in Washington State) we have looked at a few species from northern Oregon or southern Western WA. Very similar habitats but a few different species. Some of these species can better handle the drier conditions that are becoming more common in my area.
The function school of thought also allows for the creation of new plant communities using natives that were never naturally found in an area. For example when I have to restore a very dry, hot, exposed and also heavily degraded site I will select the native plants that are especially hardy and can handle the conditions. Likely, the resulting plant community would have not been found naturally in the past despite the plants being native.
But I do know some people in the structure school of thought that are nor happy with the type of projects I have outlined above.
Hope you all found that to be interesting and I welcome your thoughts. But now for the fun stuff - here are some of my past restoration projects.
The first two projects I want to share are both culvert removal projects. These culverts where blocking fish access to upstream habitat. Removal of these culverts opened up approximately a mile of stream habitat including a very large beaver wetland complex for salmon to use. The first culvert was replaced by a large 60ft steel bridge - the large bridge was chosen to maintain future access for fire trucks if a forest fire happened on the property. The second culvert was between a series of beaver dams and they had plugged it up. Due to this ongoing activity we decided to replace the culvert with a ford so we could retain access but also minimize the risk of complications from beaver activity.
Before and after picture showing the first culvert to be removed.
Culvert removed and replaced with a ford and small pedestrian bridge
The second project
I want to share is a clear example of the function school of thought. The organization I work for bought a golf course on the Puget Sound and decided to restore it to a more natural state. This property had been so dramatically changed that really it was not possible to restore to the structure school of thought standards. There was also a earthen tidal dike blocking the tides from coming in and the stream flowing through the property had been restricted to one narrow channel.
The first thing we did was remove the tidal dike and install a series of new channels that the tide waters could flow into. We also installed a series of side channels on the stream to increase channel complexity and installed what we call an intertidal basin - essentially a side channel wetland off the main channel of the stream that is impacted daily by the tides. This creates a great mix of freshwater and saltwater.
The intertidal basin - used to be a putting green!
One of the new tidal channels - they fill with saltwater during high tides and the green in them is saltmarsh vegetation.
Young salmon love the new basin and tidal channels - we find a ton of them making use of these new features. These are examples of enhancements not pure restoration.
Small created off channel wetland providing habitat for insects, and amphibians. During high flow events this provides slower back water for young salmon to hide in.
One of the larger side channels with a large riparian planting area next to it - this planting area used to be a road with a golf cart storage building.
The final project I want to share is a permaculture
inspired experiment. Often restoration projects rely on planting plants in a grid - I decided to go with what I'm calling a forest island. To do this I had large circles mulched and then we are planting native plants within the circles at a very high density. But we change what we plant depending on where in the circle the plants are. The outside edges are small shrubs and represent the early succession from the grasses found outside of the circles. Inside from these we planted some trees
but mostly large shrubs which represent the next step in succession. Finally, in the middle we planted mostly large trees which represent the next step in succession.
The idea behind these forest islands is that as the big trees grow they will cast more shade which will push the bigger shrubs outward which will in turn push the smaller shrubs out into the grasses. Plus by concentrating our plants in these circles with a lot of mulch
we can have a greater impact on the soils hopefully creating a good environment for fungi
which will help us change the area from grasses to forest.
Drone shot showing the scale of the forest islands - you can just see a person standing on the edge of one of the circles near the water.
Hope you all have found this interesting - I love this work and I have been slowly trying to incorporate more and more permaculture
ideas into my restoration work. The function school of thought may be winning the day but the structure side is not gone and still influences what people think
is appropriate. This means earthworks
are generally frowned on so I have not been able to design my projects the way I would love to... plus I have to meet the requirements of my funding sources which tend to be very conservative in what they allow. I also generally only have a couple years to do all the work before the funding runs out. After that I have minimal funding for ongoing work which means I have to get everything done very quickly.
All in all my restoration projects result in 40k ish plants planted every year. I'm very happy to be doing this work and I hope you all have enjoyed this post.