The official definition of restoration ecology as defined by the Society for Ecological Restoration is the “intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability.” While this definition might seem somewhat vague or ambiguous, it’s much easier to understand when you consider specific examples of restoration ecology: erosion control, reforestation, removal of invasive species, reintroduction of native species, revegetation of damaged areas, and habitat restoration for endangered species. Essentially, restoration ecology is any action taken with the intention of restoring an ecological system to its original and most adequate form, providing the best possible environment for native species that is possible given the current circumstances.
The practice of restoration ecology has actually been around for hundreds, if not thousands, of years, practiced by laypeople who had no specialization or expertise in the field, but who simply loved the land around them and believed they were doing the right thing in trying to preserve it. The term “restoration ecology” was officially coined in the 1980′s by two professors at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, John Aber and William Jordan, who also organized and held the first official meetings on the topic at the same University. Restoration ecology has greatly expanded as a field in the few decades since, becoming its own scientific discipline and inspiring one renowned biologist, E.O. Wells, to make a bold statement explaining that he feels the next century will “be the era of restoration in ecology.”
If Wells is right, then it means big things for many of the ecosystems around the world that are currently suffering, including the Florida Everglades. However, even amongst supporters of restoration ecology, there are generally two types. There are those people who have the belief that humans have a responsibility to all other living things, both plants and animals, and that we have an obligation to protect all species and their habitats independent of the effects that it has on us as a species. On the other hand, there are those who support restoration ecology but look at it from the viewpoint of what benefits are offered to us – such people look at healthy ecosystems instead as the food, fuel, water, and lumber they provide to humans. However one chooses to look at it, it’s clear that restoration ecology is a field that looks upon improving the environments that it studies, which could hardly be considered a bad thing in anyone’s book.
To truly understand why the field of restoration ecology is so important, it’s vital to visit places like South Florida and experience an Everglades tour firsthand. From an airboat tour, you’ll observe areas of the Everglades that not every average Florida tourist gets to see, and who knows – after a trip through the Florida Everglades, you may just be inspired to dive into the field of restoration ecology yourself.