Whenever this subject arises, it’s a long-winded discussion. Where we get into this most of the time is in the reclamation of a stream from a channelized ditch or other severely impacted form. In a sense, both have the same goal in mind, which is to enhance the habitat potential of an aquatic or riparian ecosystem. There is a difference between the two:
- Restoration is “the process of assisting the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed.” Also, “Restoration attempts to return an ecosystem to its historic trajectory.” Restoration projects require no attendance once they are mature.
- Rehabilitation emphasizes “ the reparation of ecosystem processes, productivity and services…” but does not necessarily mean a return to pre-existing biotic conditions. Rehabilitation projects may require some attendance once they are mature.
Ecological Restoration Primer, Society for Ecological Restoration (SER), http://www.ser.org/content/ecological_restoration_primer.asp
Restoration includes a lot of the work which can be characterized as rehabilitation.
As a practical matter, restoration is much harder to do in urban stream corridors, since the historic trajectory is difficult to determine. Further, the real estate generally needed to do a full restoration is expensive, if it is not already owned by the project. Rehabilitation is a much more practical option, even with its incumbent management requirements over the long term.
The discussion is worthwhile when contemplating ecosystem enhancement of some form in a project. The purposes are entirely different, which is reflected in their management of the long term. Also, restoration projects tend not to tolerate human activities such as recreation, trails, and incremental physical improvements that are often found in parks. Rehabilitation restores the ecosystem function, but does not intend to be a fully successional habitat (i.e., replicates and naturally morphs to a more mature ecosystem over time without management.). Rehabilitation can tolerate more of the human activities and be managed to maintain the ecosystem function with the other uses in the stream corridor. The trade-off is a long term management commitment. In my opinion, that commitment was already made in the first place. Now, it is directed at giving the community an asset instead of simply maintaining a drainageway.
With deference to SER, restoration only makes sense in more rural settings or in very special situations.
Of course, restoration in an urban context has to take into account the drastically altered (and probably very flashy) hydrology, but that’s another post.
posted by KEVIN CONNER