The Main Goal of Native Restoration

A good friend of mine, Lance Bennett, wrote the following for the CSR, Inc. blog. I asked him if I could share a story of my own that plays to the topic and he agreed. Read on…

native plants in southern Idaho

One of the main goals of any restoration project should be a diverse, healthy, and functioning native plant community. Most of our landscapes have a degree of disturbance that require other inputs to restore the site (seeding, planting, weed control, erosion mitigation, etc).

Occasionally one will encounter an area experiencing very limited disturbance patterns and an intact native plant community. We recommend the following on these occasions:

1. Do not disturb. Keep your impact light and unobtrusive.
2. Enjoy the splendor. These areas are beautiful, inspiring, and full of wonder.
3. Practice your native plant identification skills. It’s fun and will impress your friends.

This photo was taken in southern Idaho and is an excellent example of an undisturbed, intact functioning native plant community: multiple grass, forb, and shrub species; little to no non-native vegetation; and lots of habitat.

This reminds me of an experience I once had in the Tall Grass Prairie region. I was with one of my mentors walking through a restoration effort, enjoying the work we were doing when it occurred to me that the area we were standing in was unique, untouched, exceptionally diverse, and well stewarded.

I asked the question “What is different?” and “Why does this feel and look so special?”. The answers came back simply, “Oh you didn’t know, you’re standing in America.”

It hit me like a ton of bricks. I had walked through several restorations -but this was not a restoration, this was “Native”. Before that moment, I thought I knew what it was to be “in America”. For some reason, things changed that day. I talk and write about humility; as such I must confess this moment in my life is something I reflect on regularly.

I am grateful that by way of experience, mentorship, and a bit of good luck, I found myself eyes wide open for the first time, standing right there in the heart of America. How absolutely numb I was before that day! What opened my eyes was simply the place -the absolute energy of that very small and unique place. I often try to explain to folks that what they perceive to be native or wild may be substantially different than what native once was.

If you find a sense of place with where you are, try to honestly look past what you see into what once was. Those connections may be bit aloof but worth your time to explore. Find your “Main Goal of Restoration” and consider all the parties at play as you do.

© 2013, Steven Paulsen. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Corner Garden Sue says

    Yes, these places are a treasure to be protected! There is a patch of mostly grasses in an area of our city that that I just discovered because I am helping a group put a butterfly garden on the property right next to the “prairie”. One person told me native grasses were planted there, but non-native plants have gotten in. Another person told me nothing has been planted, and it’s all native. We do have different understandings of what constitutes a native prairie.

    I am sad that the local garden center they are working with chose cultivars and non native plants, including 2 butterfly bushes. I am taking some seedlings and divisions of some of the native plants in our yard to add to the mix, but it’s so hot, I hope they survive.
    Corner Garden Sue recently posted..Blooms and Foliage

  2. Susan J. Tweit says

    “You are standing in America.” Yes! I know that feeling of awe and deep connection with a native community with a long history on the land, but I hadn’t articulated it that way. Thank you for those words, Stephen. They will shape my way of explaining what is different about native versus restored. Not to knock restored at all–we need all the restored patches of habitat we can grow!, but the community is younger in a restoration and the stories, the wisdom of the land, are less rich.
    Susan J. Tweit recently posted..Books: Women Who Chart Their Own Course

  3. Cindy says

    I’ve recently had just such an experience, tho’ more localized..”so *this* is Long Island.. A Sweet Fern fueld in the Pine Barrens.. Thank you for articulating the more general experience..



  1. Standing in America | Today's Organic Gardening says:

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