ESE Editor’s Choice 2:2 – Restoring ecosystems and our well-being

Associate Editor Elizabeth Bach introduces our latest Editor’s Choice article by Patrick Swanson who calls for a new paradigm in ecosystem restoration called ‘Restorative recreation’.

Ecosystem restoration seeks to reunite native plants and animals in degraded ecosystem, improving biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. Many people deeply involved in ecosystem restoration also recognize the process of learning and restoring an ecosystem deepens our understanding of the natural world and our place within it. It is a humbling experience that can lead to deep personal growth.

Many indigenous cultures recognize that person and ecosystem are fully integrated and re-establishing that connection is fundamental to ecosystem restoration. Kimmerer (2011) coined the term “reciprocal restoration” to embody the indigenous principle that “what we do to the land, we do to ourselves.” Kimmerer develops this concept around integrating cultural restoration and land restoration. She also challenges the restoration community to continue expanding terminology in the field to embrace the foundational connections among people, cultures, and ecosystems more completely.

In his From Practice article, author Patrick Swanson articulates his on-going personal experience restoring a degraded tallgrass prairie in the Loess Hills of Iowa (USA), from which he articulates the concept of “restorative recreation.” Restorative recreation distinguishes a passive, and potentially consumptive, experience of recreating in nature to an interaction with nature, in which both the person and the ecosystem benefit from the activity.

On an individual level, it takes up Kimmerer’s call to become “indigenous to a place… [by] becoming involved with the ‘language’ and dynamics of the place you live.” Swanson shares his personal journey to learn the landscape, plants, animals, and management practices that supported the tallgrass prairie ecosystem prior to European colonization. He also reflects on growth in his own personal well-being as part of the process.

This paper embodies the From Practice article type, sharing first-hand experience and outcomes in restoration from which the broader restoration community can learn.

Iowa’s Loess Hills © Patrick Swanson

Swanson shares reflections on practices, observations of plants and bees that informed management decisions, and the agencies from which he was able to get help to do major management activities like prescribed fire. These are the experiences of a land steward with a deep love and respect for an ecosystem. He has sought ecological knowledge and put that knowledge into practice. His life experience and professional perspective outside ecology directly contribute to articulating the concept of restorative recreation.

Restorative recreation embodies the connection between restoring ecosystem health with improving personal wellbeing. In addition to physical exercise, active restoration develops a relationship between the ecosystem and the restoration practitioner, providing important emotional and spiritual growth. This connection, and the benefits it brings to ecosystems and people, is open to all. Relationships can be formed in neighborhoods, backyards, parks, and nature preserves.

For the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration to succeed, we need dedicated people from all walks of life and geographies to contribute their love and knowledge to restoring ecosystems around the world. As we learn from each other, and from the ecosystems we call home, ecosystem restoration has the potential to bolster biodiversity, humanity, and the vital connections among us.

In this work, Swanson shares his personal journey and reflections as an inspiration to all. May we be encouraged to humbly grow and heal with the ecosystems around us.

Read the full Editor’s Choice article: “Restorative recreation: One landowner’s experience restoring a cedar-infested native prairie remnant in Iowa’s Loess Hills” in Issue 2:2 of Ecological Solutions and Evidence.

Read the author’s blog post and discover more articles from our cross-journal cross-society Special feature on the UN Decade on Ecosystem Restoration.

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