The Unknown Trajectory of Forest Restoration: Ecosystem monitoring key to realizing restoration’s potential

Dec 18, 2008

BOZEMAN — A Science and Policy Brief released by The Wilderness Society emphasizes the importance of conducting ecosystem monitoring on the growing number of restoration projects across the West. Forest restoration projects are being broadly applied on our western lands where unnaturally dense, homogenous, or even aged trees from past forestry practices are manged to reestablish more natural forest function.

Although The Wilderness Society generally supports forest restoration projects, the brief warns that without proper monitoring the practice could lead to unintended consequences or unreasonable costs.

“Without ecosystem monitoring, you’re asking the public to buy a pig in a poke,” said Tom DeLuca, a Senior Forest Ecologist of The Wilderness Society. “There’s no doubt that restoration is an important tool of future forest management, but to make informed decisions on the utility of restoration we need to evaluate the impacts and successes of current efforts. Monitoring is the key to knowing that the activities we engage in on the forest to provide clean air and water, improve wildlife habitat, and decrease fire risk actually achieve their intended effect.”

The report focused on restoration and monitoring in the northern Rocky Mountains, but the need for monitoring applies across the nation.

Shrinking federal budgets have greatly undermined the ability of the Forest Service to conduct project-level monitoring on federal lands.

“Ecosystem monitoring presents an opportunity for the Forest Service to assess their success and inform the public. Once the public knows what restoration can do, we can expect support for it to grow,” predicted Greg Aplet, Senior Forest Scientist of The Wilderness Society.

The brief includes recommended strategies the Forest Service can use individually or in combination to achieve ecosystem monitoring with budgets strained by the costs associated with fighting wildland fire:

  • Forming multiparty teams that conduct monitoring of ecological outcomes on a large portion of restoration sites
  • Using a sampling strategy to randomly select a limited number of sites for intensive monitoring by federal teams
  • Using a remote sensing approach to monitor a select set of variables across a broad portion of the affected landscape

See the summary and full report.