Ecological Restoration & Wildland Fire Management Overview
Nearly every native ecosystem on the planet is in major disrepair due to development impacts and climate change: there are now more than two billion hectares (about 5 billion acres) of degraded lands globally. Restoration, including reestablishing natural, safer fire patterns, is a major opportunity to renew our planet by:
- Bringing back habitat for endangered species;
- Fighting climate change by drawing down carbon from the atmosphere;
- Replenishing fire-adapted ecosystems safely;
- Preventing soil erosion;
- Improving water quality.
Wild Heritage provides cutting edge science to decision makers, conservation groups, and land managers on ways to restore and renew ecosystems in the most natural and cost-effective way possible and is at the forefront of providing guidance on how to coexist safely with wildland fires.
- Wild Heritage advocates for “passive” restoration wherever possible. Specifically, we support natural regeneration, “proforestation,” and wildlands management that allows wildfires to replenish fire-adapted ecosystems safely.
- Where active restoration is necessary, we believe it should be based on “ecosystem integrity” i.e. protecting and restoring native species, processes, and functions.
Ocelot – Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Mexico. Photo: Jaime Rojo
The most cost-effective way to restore degraded lands is simply to stop destructive activity and allow an ecosystem time to recover naturally on its own. This is often referred to as “passive” restoration. Passive restoration includes:
- Regeneration: Allowing an area that has been cleared of natural habit to regenerate. Even where extensive clearing has occurred, ecosystems can often recover if there are even a few remaining patches of good habitat remaining.
- Proforestation: Allow a forest that has been logged or otherwise degraded to recover naturally so that it matures into an old-growth forest over time – a process referred to as “proforestation.” Proforestation is important for recovering species and critical for climate change, because a natural forest recovering from disturbance will draw down more carbon out of the atmosphere over the next few decades than planting trees.
- Reestablishing safe, natural wildland fire patterns: In dry forests in western North America, wildland fires typically burn in a mosaic pattern of mixed intensities with low to severe effects on ecosystems. These mosaic patterns are critical for ecosystems to renew themselves because they generate dead trees (and other structures) that provide essential habitat for huge numbers of plant and animal species. This renewal process has been referred to as “Nature’s Phoenix.”
In some cases, ecosystems have been so badly damaged that “active” restoration is needed to jump start or accelerate the natural recovery process. For example, native vegetation needs to be planted or invasive species removed. However, active restoration has often been misrepresented to include everything from mono-culture tree plantations to road building and logging under the pretext of “fuel reduction.” But plantations are not forests, and fuel reduction often intensifies disturbances and compounds negative effects on native ecosystems. Active restoration needs to be based on “ecosystem integrity” i.e. protecting and restoring native species, processes, and functions.