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Island Press
Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land / Edition 2

Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land / Edition 2

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597265713
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 05/11/2010
Series: The Science and Practice of Ecological Restoration Series Series
Edition description: 1
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 7.00(w) x 10.00(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Steven I. Apfelbaum is chairman of Applied Ecological Services Inc., a company he founded in 1975. He has worked on design, construction, management, monitoring, and research of ecosystems and has taught ecosystem restoration to land trusts, conservation organizations, and families interested in restoring their property.


Alan Haney is a forest ecologist and emeritus professor of forestry and former dean of the College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin–Stevens Point. His research and teaching focus on ecosystem structure and function, including restoration ecology.

Read an Excerpt

Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land

By Steven Apfelbaum, Alan Haney


Copyright © 2010 Steven I. Apfelbaum and Alan Haney
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-59726-813-4


Connecting with the Land: The Story of Stone Prairie Farm

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

John Muir

Ecological restoration is an affair with nature. To understand an ecosystem or landscape you must become intimately involved. In doing so, you will discover, as John Muir suggested, that you are drawn emotionally and even spiritually to it, much as a person becomes attached to a mate. As with people, each ecosystem is unique. Your challenge is to discover those unique qualities, and seek ways to allow the natural characteristics of the ecosystem to be restored to a healthy condition, ultimately to stand on its own with minimal support. In this chapter we describe the discovery process and restoration of a damaged landscape in southern Wisconsin where Steve Apfelbaum, and later, his partner, Susan, developed and refined a systematic approach to ecological restoration that has been successfully applied to hundreds of ecosystems around the world. In the following four chapters, we describe and explain the process of ecological restoration in step-by-step detail, so don't despair at not getting enough information in this first chapter. Our aim here is to describe the overall process, through Steve's experience.

Undoubtedly, you opened this book because you are interested in nature, and more specifically, you are interested in restoring degraded or damaged land. You may already be intimately familiar with your own ecosystem or landscape. It may be thousands of acres of overgrazed rangeland or a backyard. The restoration process we describe is applicable to any landscape or ecosystem, even those that have been destroyed and that must be literally reconstructed from the ground up. While we can not promise that you always will be completely successful, or that the job will be easy, we can promise that if you roll up your sleeves and involve yourself in the process, you will learn more about nature and your land than you can imagine.

Perhaps you own property, as Steve did, where you wish to restore nature, or maybe you are a manager of property and have been asked to do ecological restoration. Whether you are a property owner, a manager, or simply someone who enjoys nature, you are beginning an adventure. Perseverance will be important. In the beginning, everything will be new and exciting, but like any good relationship, ecological restoration involves determination and work. Most important is understanding a process and finding the path to work with the land.

When Steve began restoring the ecosystems hidden beneath the façade of an overworked dairy farm in Wisconsin, described in Nature's Second Chance, he was relatively inexperienced. The art and science of ecological restoration were in their infancy. Steve had formal training in ecology, plant taxonomy, soils, and related subjects, and several years' experience working as an ecological consultant, but the systematic steps for ecological restoration that we describe in this book were largely learned by trial and error. The validity of the process can be seen in successful restoration of phosphate mines in Florida, riparian wetlands in Louisiana, coastal dunes along the Atlantic coast, forests in North Carolina, and deserts in Nevada. We use Steve's experience on his land to introduce the process, then discuss later how the process works in other kinds of ecosystems.

Exploring the Landscape

Steve first saw the land on a hot July day in 1981. As he got out of the car, he could see forests and savannas a short distance to the north. In nearly all other directions, farm fields dominated the rolling landscape, but he could see dark prairie soil between rows of corn and soybeans. Along the roadside and in the fencerows was a variety of prairie plants, remnants of the past when prairie swept across the hills from horizon to horizon, broken by scattered patches of savanna. Just southeast of the run-down farmhouse was a colorful hill, with patches of yellows and purples that could only be yellow coneflower, silphiums, pale purple coneflower and, perhaps, bee balm. The house could wait. Steve had to explore the land.

For several hours, Steve wandered across the old farm. From the window of the hayloft of the old barn, he looked beyond rows of corn growing on much of the farm and neighboring land. He could see a stream course outlined by old willows and box elder trees. Trees and shrubs also marked perimeter fence lines. The stream and fence lines continued down the valley, across neighboring farms, slicing through thick fields of corn.

For Steve, there was an organic linkage between the old house and barns, and the landscape on which they sat, the latter being more important. Buildings are more easily restored than ecosystems, and it was the landscape on which Steve and later his partner, Susan, would focus their energy. Although the landscape of the old farm was only eighty acres, it contained many different ecosystems in various stages of dysfunction, some disturbed, others damaged, and some even destroyed, replaced by nonnative weeds.

On his first visit, Steve was especially intrigued by the stream that wound through a pasture along the lower margins of cornfields. Although wetland vegetation was largely absent, the stream was bordered by black "mucky" soils that could only have been developed under former wetlands, where accumulating plant matter decomposes slowly. Wading through deep patches of nettles, thistles, and ironweeds, he stumbled onto a cattle trail and followed it to the creek. There he found green, bubbling ooze over the surface of tepid water, and bare, mud-caked banks on either side. Dairy cattle were standing in the creek, their tails actively swishing the flies drawn to the stink. Water, whether in lakes or streams, is often the best indication of the ecological health of the landscape in which it occurs. When landscapes are abused, soil, nutrients, and contaminants move, most often ending up in a waterway.

The condition of the creek on Steve's property was a result of several environmental insults, called stressors, some coming from his farm, others from neighboring farms upstream. Healthy ecosystems retain soil, as well as water and nutrients. When ecosystems are damaged, in this case by intensive farming practices, more water runs off and moves more quickly, with resulting soil erosion and loss of nutrients. The water in Steve's stream was being fertilized by cattle, as well as by erosion and nutrients being lost from his and neighboring croplands.

In water that is low in nutrients, algae grow slowly and are easily kept in check by fish, snails, and other invertebrates that feed on algae. Some nutrients, of course, are essential for the algae to grow and for the stream to be productive. In a healthy ecosystem, the nutrients that enter the stream are nearly equal to the loss of nutrients through animals that visit the stream to feed on the snails, fish, and invertebrates. A raccoon or a barred owl patrolling a stream may pick off a frog or snake here and there. The nutrients from the water, absorbed by the algae, converted to insects, then to frog tissue, return with the predator to some upland site where they are released as urine or feces. No doubt many predators were visiting the stream and removing prey, but the influx of nutrients from the farms greatly exceeded the rate at which the nutrients were being removed, leading to excess growth of algae.

The problem did not stop there. The bubbling that Steve noticed through the dense slime of algae was certainly methane gas, indicating anaerobic decomposition, and anoxic conditions in the water. As sun shines on a shallow, exposed stream, the stream warms, and respiration of both plants and animals increases. Oxygen produced through photosynthesis by the algae is quickly absorbed from the water by all the respiring organisms, and any excess is lost to the atmosphere. When the sun goes down, respiration continues, but photosynthesis stops. Consequently, at night, dissolved oxygen levels in the water soon drop below the level needed by virtually all airbreathing animals. Diversity of consumers decreases, and with that, the ability of the stream ecosystem to consume the excess algae, which, as it dies, is anaerobically decomposed by a host of fungi and bacteria. A vicious cycle is established.

Troubled by what he found, Steve followed the stream toward its headwaters. Upstream, above the pasture, springs seeped from the banks, crystal clear and cool. There, Steve found a variety of native wetland plants—turtle head, blue vervain, several sedges, golden-glow sunflower, mountain mint—that indicated wetland diversity was still present although excluded from the pastured stream banks by grazing activity. In the water, he found a rich variety of invertebrates. This was a tremendously important discovery. Ecosystems can be restored only if much of their natural diversity can be returned. Each species plays a role in the functioning of a healthy ecosystem. It is the interaction of species through these functions—predator-prey, plant-herbivore, disease-host, competition, parasite-host relations—that defines an ecological community and provides it with healthy characteristics, such as resiliency and stability. Overlap in these functions creates duplication such that the ecosystem will continue to function even when many species are lost. However, when too much diversity is lost, the ecosystem is less capable of responding to disturbance or climatic fluctuations. Only when most of the species are present and healthy and able to interact freely with other species will the ecological community regain higher levels of health. Thus, much of your work in restoring your ecosystem will be directed toward restoration of the native species that once were there.

Ecological resiliency is defined as the ability of an ecosystem to recover following perturbation. Both the rate and degree of recovery reflect the health of the ecosystem. Steve's creek had lost the ability to respond to the surge of nutrients it was receiving because it had been overwhelmed by the influx of nutrients, and too many species had been eliminated. The balance of nature in the stream had been disrupted by excess nutrients in the water. As species are lost, the ecosystem becomes less and less able to respond to the perturbation, and resiliency is lost.

Steve's joy at finding the diversity in the wetland near the headwaters of the stream was soon dampened when he found more problems. The rows of corn ran up the slopes, and the eroded soils ran down. Heavy deposits of topsoil had accumulated along the lower margins of the cornfield, just above the stream. The next storm would flush another surge into the creek. To make matters worse, nonnative reed canary grass was invading the patches of remaining native plants between the field and the stream. Whereas native species are well adapted to residual soil conditions, the eroded soil that accumulated near the creek was deep and fertile, favoring invasive species, in this case, reed canary grass. There also were nonnative trees, European fragile willow and Russian olive, along the stream. As the stream banks eroded, a result of intense runoff from the cornfields and bank disturbance by the cattle, the willows collapsed, pulling large chunks of bank with them. To add insult to injury, there were scattered old coils of barbed wire, spent farm equipment, and trash dumped indiscriminately along the stream. Steve began to realize the total landscape had been abused and neglected, not from malice, but from ignorance and, perhaps, some necessity stemming from marginal profitability.

Developing a Plan

Steve felt overwhelmed but took solace in knowing that the farmer had a two-year lease during which a restoration plan could be developed. Perhaps it was fortuitous that Steve was forced to bide his time. The landscape had been damaged by agricultural practices over nearly 150 years, and restoration would take at least a few decades. Jumping in too quickly could lead to costly mistakes. Many temperate ecosystems, even damaged ones, are remarkably resilient, however. As long as native species can be restored, ecological functions will recover, but mistakes generally mean lost time or money. Taking time to study the land, gather information, consult with experts, and test hypotheses is the best approach in every instance. By necessity, Steve proceeded slowly, allowing time to sort through the issues, define the needs, set priorities, and determine where best to begin.

Steve also suffered two deficiencies: experience and money. While he had a good formal education, book and field knowledge are two very different things when it comes to application. Restoration ecology is still emerging as a formal body of knowledge. Steve didn't even know how to start the two old tractors in the broken-down shed. So, he began by talking with his neighbors—farmers who had similar equipment and years of experience squeezing a living out of the land. He not only learned how to start and drive his tractors, he also learned much about the history of the area around his farm. Being short on money, Steve fell back on a necessary strong suit when doing restoration: ingenuity.

Collecting information and thinking about ecological changes that had occurred at Stone Prairie Farm, and the things that were needed to begin restoring the land, Steve's restoration plan began to crystallize into a ten-step process, described in detail in the following chapter. Steve felt he had no choice in what to do first. It was one thing to have erosion in the cornfields, but Steve especially wanted to stabilize soil along the road, within easy view of his neighbors. Converting manicured, clean-looking cornfields to weedy-looking, native-plant communities is a transition that might be understood and appreciated by ecologists, but likely not by neighboring farmers. There was a double standard—erosion is tolerable to farmers working the land, but it would be objectionable in the restoration that local farmers initially would see as a waste of land.

With only a few acres near the road not under lease, Steve prepared part of the area for a garden but was unsure how to convert the remaining acres into prairie. A neighboring farmer told him how to prepare the ground for oats. This also gave Steve a place to experiment. He collected native prairie seeds that autumn and worked them into the soil with a hoe before the oats were planted. The following spring, the green field of oats sent the right message. By late summer, he and Susan could find small prairie seedlings scattered through the oat straw.

Getting Started

Not being able to start work on the rest of the farm for another year, Steve used some of the prairie seeds to develop patches around the house. From these plants they later collected some of the seed used to plant the larger fields. After three growing seasons, they had enough seed to begin converting a few acres each year, improving restoration techniques as they learned.

When the farming lease expired, Steve turned his attention to uplands and drainage-ways that were tributaries to the stream. Where the storm water runoff from neighboring farms needed to be controlled and cleaned, he planted perennial prairie vegetation to serve as a buffer. If the runoff couldn't be prevented, it could at least be intercepted before it got to the stream. This buffering strategy would make it possible to restore the stream without having to eliminate the sources of soil and nutrients. After the cattle were removed, Steve discovered a flush of native plants in the former pasture and along the stream course. Most areas along the stream, even some of the areas with eroded banks, self-stabilized. Where the banks did not stabilize, he had a local earth-moving contractor grade steeper banks and remove the fallen, invasive willow trees. He then seeded the banks with native species and a cover crop to stabilize the soil until those slower-growing native perennials could get established. Whenever possible, extended family and neighbors were invited to participate.


Excerpted from Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land by Steven Apfelbaum, Alan Haney. Copyright © 2010 Steven I. Apfelbaum and Alan Haney. Excerpted by permission of ISLAND PRESS.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

PART I. Principles of Ecological Restoration
Chapter 1. Connecting with the Land: The Story of Stone Prairie Farm
-Exploring the Landscape
-Developing a Plan
-Getting Started
-Scaling Up
-Learning to Work with Nature
-Principles Learned from the Stone Prairie Experience
-Learning by Doing
-The Necessity of Stewardship
-Joy of Success
Chapter 2. Ecological Restoration: An Overview
    Assessing the Health of Ecosystems
    Indicators of Healthy Ecosystems
    Special Importance of Diversity
-Ten-Step Process for Ecological Restoration
    Step One: Mapping and Inventory
    Step Two: Investigate the History of the Landscape
    Step Three: Interpretation of Landscape Changes
    Step Four: Develop Realistic Goals and Objectives
    Step Five: Prepare a Plan
    Step Six: Develop and Initiate a Monitoring Program
    Step Seven: Implement the Plan
    Step Eight: Document Changes and Maintain Records
    Step Nine: Periodically Reevaluate the Program
    Step Ten: Communicate and Educate
Chapter 3. Developing a Restoration Plan
-The Restoration Process
    Step One: Inventory and Mapping
    Step Two: Investigate the History of the Landscape
    Step Three: Interpretation of  Landscape Changes
    Step Four: Develop Realistic Goals and Objectives
    Step Five: Prepare a  Plan
    Step Six: Develop and Initiate a Monitoring Program
    Step Seven: Implement the Plan
    Step Eight. Document Changes and Maintain Records
Chapter 4. Implementing Restoration
-Working at the Right Scale
-Where to Start
-Working With and Not Against Nature
-Recruiting Volunteers and Hiring Professional Help
-Restoration Success and Nature's Clock
    Availability vs. Phenology
    Reading Phenology: What to Look For
    Knowing When It Is Too Late
    Throwing Everything at the Land?
    Patience, Persistence, and Long-term Perspectives
-Commonly Employed Techniques
    Chemical Challenges
    Biological Techniques
    Site Preparation
    Seeding and Planting
    Control of Woody Vegetation
    Use of Fire
-A Management Program
Chapter 5. Monitoring Progress
-Affirming Measurable Objectives
-Basic Monitoring Techniques
    Light Quality and Quantity
    Plant Community and Vegetation
    Faunal Monitoring
-Other Benefits of Monitoring
-Is There Ever an Endpoint?
PART II. Applying Restoration to Different Types of Ecosystems
Chapter 6. Grassland Restoration
-Historic Grasslands in North America
-Grassland Fauna
-Market and Policy Changes
-Restoration Practices
    Mixed-grass and Short-grass Prairie Restoration
    Tallgrass Prairie Restoration
    Choice of Species
    Caring for New Prairie
    Prescribed Fire
    Control of Woody Invasives
Chapter 7. Restoring Forest Ecosystems
-The Challenge of Restoring Forested Ecosystems
-Applying the Principles of Restoration
    Examples Across North America
    Longleaf-slash Pine Forests
    Bottomland Hardwood Forests
    Oak-pine and Loblolly-short-leaf Pine Forests
    Oak-hickory Forests and Northern Hardwood Forests
    Boreal Forests
    Pacific Evergreen Forests
Chapter 8. Wetland Restoration
-Wetland Form and Function
-Planning Wetland Restoration
-Regulations and Legal Definitions
-Different Types of Wetlands
-Water Quality
    Classification of Wetlands
-Physical Gradients and Biological Change
-Restorations Strategies and Process
Chapter 9. Restoring Streams
-Underlying Problems
-Some Principles
-The Process of Stream Restoration
Chapter 10. Restoring Deserts
-What Is a Desert
-Unique Biological Adaptations
-Stressors and Impacts
-Restorations Strategies
Species List

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