The Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land Workbook

The Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land Workbook

by Steven I. Apfelbaum, Alan W. Haney


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781597268042
Publisher: Island Press
Publication date: 01/02/2012
Series: Science and Practice of Ecological Restoration Series
Edition description: Workbook
Pages: 200
Product dimensions: 8.40(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Steven I. Apfelbaum is Chairman of Applied Ecological Services and has been active in teaching and practicing ecological restoration for more than thirty years. Alan Haney is a forest ecologist and former dean of the College of Natural Resources, University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point.

Read an Excerpt


Step 1.

Inventory and Map Your Land

If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not.

Aldo Leopold

Ecological restoration must begin with understanding the land with an emphasis on determining its ecological health. Rarely will a tract of land have been sufficiently studied at the outset of restoration planning to provide a sufficient assessment to complete the restoration and management planning data form (see appendix 1). More typically, you will start from scratch. This step begins with an overview of how to assess the land then covers the details for evaluating the ecosystems.

Land evaluation involves three processes that can be done sequentially, or more or less simultaneously, depending on the size and complexity of the landscape:

1. Identify and map the ecological units (plant communities or cover types if the land is not too disturbed or in agricultural crops).

2. Characterize the communities as to dominant species and location in the landscape with special attention to ecotones and succession.

3. Determine the ecological health of each community or ecosystem. Note: we will refer to either "community" or "ecosystem," depending on whether the emphasis is on the species present (community), or the ecological processes (ecosystem).

Each process demands more knowledge and interpretative skill than the previous. Some steps may exceed your knowledge or experience. If so, we offer alternatives but encourage you to keep learning and seek assistance when needed.

The first process requires only good observation to delineate the different ecological units present. We use "unit" here because disturbance often disguises the variation in edaphic conditions such as soil, hydrology, and topography that would have led to variation in vegetation patterns. Where vegetation patterns are present, they reveal ecological units. For example, you may see a weedy hillside grading into a wetland at the bottom of the slope. These are different ecological units that you would map. You need not worry about the details of species and variation in soils at this point, but simply look for differences in vegetation, topography, or hydrology that are apparent. Smaller fields, lawns, or vacant lots will generally be mapped as a unit at this stage, especially if you see no natural breaks in topography or hydrology.

The aim of the second process is to define and characterize the ecosystems that occupy each unit you have identified. The dominant plants are most often used, but variation in soil and hydrology may also become essential clues, especially if the vegetation has been largely altered by agriculture or development (fig. 1.1). This will require that you investigate deeper, perhaps examining soil characteristics, although superficially at this stage. During this process you refine your initial interpretation of the landscape.

The third process is the most demanding. It involves "detective work." In this process, the aim is to understand the reasons for the patterns you have mapped. What are the differences between the units? Are the differences a result of variation in soil, hydrology, or human disturbances? Perhaps they represent different successional stages following some prior disturbance. How was the site disturbed? How do units grade one into the other along slopes, shifts in soil characteristics, or hydrology and drainage patterns (fig. 1.2). Answers likely will involve variation in edaphic conditions, but also past and ongoing disturbances, what are called stressors (fig. 1.3). Understanding how past and present stressors shape ecosystems is fundamental to the development of a good restoration plan.

On a very simple piece of property, you may be able to conduct all three processes at one time. However, this is not possible on complex properties. A simple landscape may have only one edaphic setting that now is cultivated, perhaps a corn or wheat field, or a vacant lot. In most cases, however, even a forty-acre, nearly flat field will have variation in soils and hydrology worth noting. A complex landscape will contain many ecological units, perhaps with remnants of historic vegetation in various conditions of ecological health comingled with cultivated land, and often other units that have been altered in various ways. Commonly, hydrology also will have been altered by channelization or with agricultural tiles.

Regardless of whether simple or complex, the three processes are equally important. The easiest way to capture the information is by mapping what you see on the landscape at the appropriate scale over a topographic map or aerial photograph, a process we explain next. The maps become the basis for subsequent restoration planning, so care in developing them is important.


The information required to develop good restoration plans must be georeferenced, that is, the information is site specific. Each item of information relates to one or more specific locations on the land. Maps are used to georeference the information and facilitate collection and compilation of information, as well as guide restoration treatments and monitoring to be described later. All tasks associated with land evaluation involve mapping what you find in the field. Mapping will require that you have some basic tools and equipment, such as clipboards, compass, notebook. (See appendix 2 for information on equipment).

It is possible to create a map of ecological units, also called an "existing condition" map, from good aerial photographs and other public domain information such as topographic and soil maps. However, we emphasize that there are several reasons why evaluations done remotely should be considered only preliminary. Aerial photographs are often several years old and may no longer be accurate or applicable. Even with a current photograph, unless you have considerable experience in evaluating and interpreting this kind of data, it is unlikely that you can create maps remotely that will be accurate enough for the next steps in the process. Even more important, the most successful restoration efforts result from an intimate familiarity with the landscape, where you begin to understand the nuances of the land. We use the term land here and elsewhere in the same sense that Leopold did — the soil, water, flora, and fauna that inhabit it. This level of intimacy occurs only by being on the land. You cannot gain it from photographs or through the windows of your pickup. Required insight will come only from close observation, feeling the soils, taking measurements, learning the plants and animals, and awareness of how the ecosystems change season to season and year to year.

It is important to systematically record what you see and learn about the land. We urge that you get in the habit of carrying a field notebook supplemented with the standard field notes data form (data form 1.2, appendix 1). This form provides a catalog of features (data form 1.3, appendix 1) you should consider coding and mapping as you progress through the field assessment.

The field notes data form also leads you through a sequence of questions (box 1.1) that you should apply to each ecological unit you identify and map during the field inventory. As you map an ecological unit, either go through the field notes data form at that time, or return later to do so. When you are finished with this initial evaluation, you should have a field notes data form page completed for each ecosystem or land unit defined in the hand sketch.

The balance of this step leads you through these processes task by task. The more carefully you complete these tasks, the more likely you are to develop a successful restoration plan.

Field Assessment

If you are not well acquainted with the land to be restored, we suggest you begin by reviewing a plat map of the property usually obtainable from the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) office or from the county clerk of deeds. Familiarize yourself with property boundaries and walk the land to get a feel for topography, streams and wetlands, disturbances, and general vegetation distribution. This is facilitated by comparing what you see in the field with a soils map, topographic map, or aerial photograph, preferably all three. You will need these layers of information for your basemap anyway, so better to have them from the outset. Topographic maps are readily available from the internet through or At TerraServer you can download either aerial photographs or topographic maps covering any property in United States. You need to reconcile property boundaries with the aerial photograph or topographic map, however. Your NRCS office probably can provide a soils map showing property boundaries. Alternatively, for many locations in the United States, soil maps have been digitized; go online and enter "soil map" and your county and state to download a soil map covering your property, but you will then need to overlay property boundaries. Many counties also have digitized plat maps that can be downloaded.

High quality aerial photographs usually can be obtained from the NRCS office. Get the most recent flight, often no more than a few years old. Some offices may have photographs dating as far back as the 1930s, when aerial photography was just being started and these older maps will also be useful when you investigate the history of the property (step 2). Ideally, it would be good to have a historic photograph from each decade. Either have the photographs scanned at very high resolution, or reproduced using a photographic service. If you cannot find the photographs locally, they can be ordered online for most areas in the United States. Check National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (,, or GoogleEarth (

Using either an aerial photograph, topographic map, or soil map on which you can identify property boundaries, return to the field to sketch ecological units as previously described. Try to capture the natural variation in the land based on topography and hydrology, reflected by vegetation, if relatively undisturbed. If the land has been farmed, these units will commonly correspond to fields, where variation in edaphic conditions was incorporated into farming practices. In larger fields, however, you may see variations that should be mapped. If areas are relatively undisturbed, map according to dominant species or vegetation type. This is often called cover-type mapping, each cover type corresponding to an ecological unit. On small properties, this mapping can be done in an hour or two, but on large properties, it might take several days.

Task 1. Create a Basemap

Once you have a good overview of the land, you are ready to prepare your basemap. Digital basemaps are much more convenient and will save you a tremendous amount of time over the course of your restoration project, especially for larger projects. Even if you do not have access to a computer, you may be able to get a computer-savvy friend who does, or someone you can hire to create a basemap for you. Or, if you wish, contact our website to ask for our assistance. Alternatively, go to the NRCS office and ask for help in creating your basemap. As a last resort, see if a teacher at the local high school or technical school would be interested in using the preparation of your basemap as a class exercise, perhaps even staying involved in the restoration process. We will describe both the hardcopy and digital processes, but we urge that you seek assistance as necessary to produce a digitized basemap. In any case, the essential layers of information you will eventually need on your basemap include the following:

• property boundaries

• soil types and distribution

• topography including streams and water bodies

• landforms such as rock outcrops and wetlands not otherwise shown by topography

• roads and utility lines

Any time you can inexpensively increase the precision of your efforts, it will pay off in the short as well as the long term, regardless of the size of your project. Especially on larger projects, errors in mapping can become costly.

Preparing a hardcopy basemap. Because maps are often at different scales, you likely will have to reduce or enlarge maps to match scales as accurately as possible. We recommend you use the United States Geological Survey (USGS) topographic map as the ground layer to build your basemap. In the rare case where you have another topographic map at a finer scale, as long as it covers your project site and some context of land beyond your project boundary, then use it.

Most USGS maps are at one of two scales, a 7.5-minute or 1:24,000 scale where one inch on the map is equal to 2,000 feet on the land, and a 15-minute or 1:250,000 scale where one inch on the map is equal to 20,833 feet on the ground. Because these scales will result in small properties being just a few inches square, or less, we recommend that you enlarge the images to fill much of an 8.5- by 11-inch page, and recalculate the scale so that when you take measurements in the field, you can relate them to your map. Use a photocopy machine to blow up the image.

Initially, the aim is to create a basemap on a piece of paper that is large enough for you to record boundaries of what you find when you are in the field. Scale is less important, as long as it is convenient for your use, and you do not have to write so small that the mapping becomes illegible. If so, increase the resolution of your basemap either using a photocopy machine or, if digitized, change the scale with the computer.

Basemaps of two scales are desirable, one showing a broader landscape to provide a context for your property, and the other that focuses specifically on your property.

Smaller map. This map should focus on your property or project site and at least some of the adjacent properties. For the authors' farms, these maps included a quarter-mile border beyond the project sites.

Larger map. This map should provide the context of your project site. For the authors' farms, we included a border of two miles beyond the project sites. The landscape context you choose is determined by the maps you have available and potential impacts of external stressors. This map can have less resolution, often using the 15-minute topographic map.

When Steve began restoration of his farm, he wanted both the topographic and soils information on the same basemap. Both the published USGS topographic map and NRCS soils map were at the same 1:24,000 scale. His farm was eighty acres, but covered little more than two inches in one direction and one inch in the other direction on these maps. He enlarged both maps using a photocopy machine so the farm, with a quarter-mile border, covered an 11- by 17-inch page. He then recalculated the scale which turned out to be about ten times the original, roughly one inch to two hundred feet on the ground. Although that is an ideal scale, if your project is much larger, you may need to work with less resolution.

Using tracing paper, soil types from the enlarged NRCS soils map were transferred to create an overlay of the topographic map. This was then traced onto a clear Mylar plastic film material (available from office supply stores) using a Sharpie pen. Once this was done, the Mylar film with the soils boundaries was taped over the topographic map, making sure all property corners aligned, and a photocopy machine was used to make a combined map. Duplicate copies were made as needed for the field, keeping the original in the office.

This same technique was used with a topographic map to compile topographic lines, streams, buildings, roads and others features onto the basemaps. This was combined with the soil-type boundaries over a recent aerial photograph that was enlarged to the same scale. This resulted in a refined basemap with all three layers on a single map. Of course all this could have been done much easier with geographic information systems (GIS) technology, which was not available when Steve began his project.


Excerpted from "The Restoring Ecological Health to Your Land Workbook"
by .
Copyright © 2012 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


Step 1. Inventory and Map Your Land
-Task 1. Create a Basemap Task
-Task 2. Characterize Land Use or Cover Types
-Task 3. Refine Ecological Units
-Task 4. Map Current Conditions of Ecological Units
-Task 5. Review Soil Type Distribution and Assess Seedbanks
-Task 6. Map Drainage
-Task 7. Map Locations of Significant Populations of Invasive Species
-Task 8. Assess and Map Stressors

Step 2. Investigate Historic Conditions
-Task 9. Complete Historic Conditions Data Form
-Task 10. Map Soils and Surface Geology
-Task 11. Understand How Your Land Has Changed

Step 3. Interpret Landscape Changes
-Task 12. Develop Working Hypotheses
-Task 13. Map Ecotones and Gradients

Step 4. Develop Goals and Objectives
-Task 14. Develop Restoration Goals and Objectives
-Task 15. Review and Firm up Framing Infrastructure
-Task 16. Develop a Project Governance Plan
-Task 17. Prepare a Preliminary Budget
-Task 18. Refine Goals and Objectives

Step 5. Develop Your Restoration Plan
-Task 19. Design the Outline (Content) of Your Plan

Step 6. Develop a Good Monitoring Program
-Task 20. Develop Your Monitoring Program

Step 7. Implement the Plan
-Task 21. Develop a Task List and Schedule
-Task 22. Develop Project Phasing Plans
-Task 23. Develop Detailed Specifications
-Task 24. Determine Restoration Methods and Equipment Needs
-Task 25. Procure Plants, Seeds, and Materials
-Task 26. Complete Final Budget
-Task 27. Develop Long-term Maintenance Budget and Endowment

Step 8. Maintain Good Records
-Task 28. Decide What Will Be Recorded
-Task 29.Develop a Record-keeping Strategy

Step 9. Review the Project
-Task 30. Schedule Semiannual and Annual Reviews
-Task 31. Refine the Restoration Program as Suggested by the Review

Step 10. Share the Restoration Process
-Task 32. Develop a Plan for Sharing Your Experiences

Appendix 1: Data Forms
Appendix 2: Equipment, Safety, and Protection for Restoration Planning
Appendix 3: Restoration Contracts
Appendix 4: Additional Resources for Readers
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