Bathed in the dim blue light of the computer monitor, I clumsily search for keyboard letters with my swollen fingers. It’s fire season, the time of year when the end of one work day often runs into the start of the next. Our cat, purring loudly and rubbing my leg, is the only one happy that I’m up at this early hour. Shh, I say to the cat; I don’t want to wake Debra. I review the fire weather forecast, put together the day’s game plan, and send off tentative instructions to the fire crew. I turn my attention to my inbox, anxiety building as each email adds to the “to do” list. I open an email titled “woodcocks,” read the text and then view the attached photo. The image captures me, triggering my smoke-raw sinuses into overdrive as my breathing becomes labored and my eyes tear up. This is what ecological restoration is all about, I whisper to myself.
The front story here is about the American woodcock. An at-risk species in critical need of habitat. In this particular case, the landowners removed dense tangles of woody invasive species that had a death grip on an oak savanna (potential prime foraging habitat for woodcocks). They returned fire to the landscape (critical for oak tree regeneration) and reintroduced lost herbaceous plant species. Now, after only a couple of years, they’ve witnessed for the first time the incredible aerial breeding courtship flight of the American woodcock. An ecological restoration success story.
But it’s the back story that defines the true success of ecological restoration. This story involves people of different backgrounds working together to conserve our natural heritage. DNR biologists overseeing a small grant to willing landowners. Restoration contractors providing the muscle to remove the woody invasive species. The landowners burning brush piles, conducting prescribed burns and sowing long lost plant species. Years of planning and effort culminating in the return of the American woodcock.
There’s still more to this back story. It’s epitomized by the email image of two small happy children sowing seeds in a recently burned oak savanna. In this image, I see loving parents who care about their children’s future. Parents who desire their children to have the opportunity to experience and care for nature in much the same way as they did when they were children. Parents hoping to pass on a land ethic that will enrich their children’s lives and provide balance during times of difficult life challenges.
I see a family working and playing together while connecting with nature and enjoying our natural heritage. The children sow the seeds of future beautiful blooms, but it’s the parents sowing the seeds of future land stewards.
Ecological restoration is much more than rare plants and animals. It’s about people, our shared humanity, and how we relate to all other living beings.
For more background info on the American Woodcock see