Thursday, August 1, 2013

Hello From Chicago . . . There's No Place Like Home

USDA NRCS Chief Jason Weller
Addressing NCER 13 Plenary Session
Hello from the Chicago, Illinois region and the Fifth National Conference on Ecosystem Restoration, where the theme of the week is "The Spirit of Cooperation."  It has been a week filled with thought-provoking and professionally-delivered presentations on restoration, and has provided ample opportunity to network with friends, government officials, contractors, scholars and others.   The presentation abstracts and PowerPoint slides will be available on the NCER web site soon, for those interested in mining the rich store of information presented at the conference.

In the meantime, here are the "top ten" take-away lessons from this year's conference.  Or here, at least, are the overarching themes that I heard emerging among the hundreds of talks, panel discussions and poster-presentations.*
Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz"

  1. The key step in any successful ecosystem restoration effort is when people say, "This place is really important to us." Then they care.  Then they take responsibility for the place's protection and restoration.  Then they become accountable.
  2. Despite all of the talk of public-private partnerships and conservation through cooperation (well-warranted talk), a surprisingly large number of people still look first, often or always to the Federal government to fund, require and catalyze restoration.
  3. History demonstrates that Federal funding, requiring and catalyzing are not at all the primary components of successful ecosystem restoration, and oftentimes not as important as has been suggested.
  4. People physically close to the ecosystem in question (the wetland, river, lake, forest, prairie or wherever) view restoration as a "place" issue, as in "my place has been harmed."  People in more distant locations tend to view restoration as a "pollution" issue, as in "pollution or damage has occurred."  
  5. That difference in perspective is nuanced but important.  The two flow from and tap into different values.  And values drive commitment to and accountability for action.
  6. Economic and ecologic issues are two sides of the same restoration coin, and both speak to "place" at their root (derived, as they are, from the Greek "oikos," meaning "home"). 
  7. It's all about relationships in the end (and at the beginning and throughout).
  8. Voluntary, private actions often work.
  9. Regulatory-driven actions sometimes work, too.
  10. Dorothy was right.  "There's no place like home."
* Heard, that is, through the filter of a small-town boy who grew up to be a systems ecologist and somehow landed in Washington, DC.

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