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Letter from SER Executive Director Bethanie Walder

Volume 31 Issue 1 | March 2017
International Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration


Dear SER Members,

I was sitting in a restaurant talking with a colleague from an international development organization when they asked me the question that many restoration ecologists and advocates are also asking themselves: “How will we ever reach all of these international restoration targets with projects at the 50-hectare, 500-hectare, or even 5000-hectare scale?” The Bonn Challenge alone calls for 150 million hectares of forest restoration by 2020, and 350 million hectares by 2030. Similarly, the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) calls for all signatory nations to restore 15% of their degraded lands by 2020. These targets are exciting, inspiring, and extraordinarily challenging. They illustrate the promise of ecological restoration, while also exposing the youthfulness of this field. How can we help achieve these targets without making compromises on-the-ground? Where are the good examples of high acreage, high quality, ecologically-sound projects?

This issue of SERNews provides a detailed introduction to SER’s new International Standards for the Practice of Ecological Restoration (“International Standards”), which provide a framework to help ensure that restoration is well-practiced and ecologically-based. In addition, this issue includes two articles that apply the assessment component of the International Standards to real, on-the-ground projects. We also include one related article introducing the CBD’s newly adopted Short Term Restoration Action Plan, which is intended to help achieve CBD’s 15% restoration goals.

George Gann, lead author of the International Standards, walks us through the key components, including their genesis, key concepts, and the new 5-star system for rating ecological restoration along a broad continuum. Following George’s article, we are pleased to be able to include two case studies assessing projects using the 5-star system. First, Gabriel Wilks discusses a small-scale project inside Kosciuszko National Park in Australia. The assessment and analysis provide a look at applying the 5-star system, in this case to a project with an 11- hectare footprint. Though small, the project has been a strong success, illustrating that restoration can achieve important ecological objectives.

Moving from small- to large-scale, the second example, by Fangyuan Hua, introduces us to a comprehensive assessment of China’s Grain for Green Program (GFGP). GFGP covers an astonishing 27.8 million hectares of land, with nearly 3 million more hectares in the restoration pipeline by 2020. China has already scaled up, but is it working? Fangyuan explains that, “For many of these efforts [large scale afforestation/reforestation], the objectives are the recovery of specific ecosystem services such as soil stability, carbon storage, or timber production. Often, restoration is not an explicitly stated goal; however, the SER 5-star evaluation system can be applied to these programs to gauge their progress and potentially assist them in upgrading to actions that promote full ecosystem recovery as an end goal.” Her assessment provides an excellent preview of what we can expect, and how we can use the International Standards to address potential problems that might occur as nations throughout the world try to implement large-scale reforestation and restoration projects.

Finally, the thematic section of this issue closes with an introduction to the CBD’s new Short-Term Restoration Action Plan by Jim Hallett. Jim introduces us to some of the key components of the Plan, which, “aims to promote the restoration of a spectrum of degraded ecosystems to stem the loss of biodiversity. At the same time, it seeks to ensure ecosystem resilience, improved ecosystem services, improved human well-being, and other benefits. The plan is meant to assist the Parties to the Convention, as well as other organizations, in both accelerating and upscaling restoration.”

As I pondered the question I was asked at dinner that evening, I reached out to colleagues for examples of large-scale projects. Quite a few amazing projects landed in my inbox, but I was particularly struck by the successes (and challenges) of a 60,000-hectare restoration project along the perimeter of the reservoir created by the Itaipu Dam at the border of Brazil and Paraguay. During SER’s World Conference in Brazil this coming August, we’ll have several different field trips to parts of this restoration effort, and though we haven’t run it through the 5-star system, it’s scope and scale, along with projects like China’s GFGP, gives us a sense both of what’s possible and of the challenges inherent with large-scale projects. SER’s new International Standards can help planners and governments set the type of clear objectives needed, both ecologically and socio-culturally, if they want restoration to fully achieve the many benefits it promises.

Bethanie Walder


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