Ecological restoration: Science, concepts, ethics
Given the assumptions on which it was based, classic ecological restoration was necessarily oriented to recreating a historic biotic community. With the abandonment of those assumptions, wildlands currently existing in climatic and edaphic conditions similar to those of the area to be restored could serve as reference states. Further, with the ascendency of ecosystem ecology, restoration efforts might focus on the ecological processes and functions exhibited by wildland reference states, rather than on community composition, thus providing restorationists with yet more freedom without stretching the concept of ecological restoration to the breaking point. Since 2005, the Millennium Assessment (MA) reports have linked ecosystems and human well-being under the rubric of ecosystem services organized into four categories: provisioning services, supporting services, regulating services, and cultural services. With the legitimation of the MA, ecological restoration efforts might focus on the restoration of ecosystem services, again specified by appropriately selected wildland reference states.
The goal of this project is to integrate philosophical, ecological, legal, economic, and ethical theories, frameworks, and worldviews to address the broad question: What are the implications of using an ecosystem services approach to ecological restoration? To workshop participants from different domains, “implications” will mean very different things. From a philosophical point of view, the evolution of the concept of ecological restoration from its historically oriented origins in the UW Arboretum project to restoration of ecosystem services might imply closing the circle and returning ecological restoration to its roots, if cultural services are prioritized, while if provisioning services are prioritized, “restoration” so conceived might appear to be oxymoronic. For ecologists, the implications of conceiving of ecological restoration in terms of ecosystem services might affect selecting goals, implementation methods, and assessment criteria. For legal scholars, an ecosystem services approach to ecological restoration might be inconsistent with current statutory law, but may suggest new ways of using executive powers in the form of regulations to adapt the inertia of law to the rapidly changing climate of practice. The MA rationale for gathering all ecological values under the rubric of ecosystem services is to make their contribution to human well-being expressible in economic terms—that is, in a monetary metric. For economists, as for ecologists, the implications of this for ecological restoration might involve technical challenges in regard to valuation methods and assessment criteria. For environmental ethicists, the implications of conceiving of ecological restoration in terms of ecosystem services might be tantamount to an embrace of anthropocentrism and a reduction of the value of nature and its processes and functions to instrumental value at the expense of ecocentrism and the intrinsic value of nature.