Umpqua Watersheds Blog


Spring 2017

Published March 7th, 2017 in Restoration

Stan Petrowski

The Burden of Healing

From its very beginnings Umpqua Watersheds has had restoration ecology as a critical component of its agenda. The first decade or so was mainly devoted to the immediate and most important task. Slowing down of the level of damage to the habitat that was being reeked on the public and private forests in the Pacific Northwest. We have obviously only partially succeeded.

In spite of our hope and concentrated time investment to protect vital life supporting ecosystems in our region, the need to address the damage that already been done remained steadfastly in the organizations focus and planning. Once the Northwest forest plan was initiated and various species of animals, fish and plants continued disappearing from the ecosystem it was evident there was restorative work to be done. Efforts to turn the tide of the impact of the industrial revolution on the environment have not been very successful. The pace of destruction on public lands has been slowed but not stopped or reversed. Private industrial land corporations continue to be the main contributors of ecological destruction, pollution, social/economic degradation and political intransigence.

A buzz word being circulated around various funding circles related to defending and restoring ecosystems services is equity. The concept is rightly front and center in our culture. It takes many forms. For the purpose of our discussion on restoration it is appropriate to describe some of the inequity associated with resource extraction and its influence on the natural world. We believe the natural resource extraction industries have privatized economic gain on both the public trust and their managed tree farms. At the same time they have socialized the risk and cost of damage to the environment with its resultant adverse impact on the aquatic and terrestrial web of life it contains. Indeed, it is readily evident that the past 150 years of land acquisition and management have taken an immense toll on human and wild life. The cost of damages is a can kicked down the road.

As an example let’s consider the effects of logging. Diminished fish runs alone have cost Oregon, Washington and California billions of private, state and federal tax dollars to stanch the rapid decline of salmon. Add to that the weight of the very expensive false starts such as the Pacific Northwest hatchery programs. These programs have not only failed miserably but have compounded the very problems they were proposed to fix. Consider the losses of investment made by the fishing industry as ships sit idol on the coast for lack of the once wild fisheries abundance that filled the oceans. We can easily enumerate other costs which amount to billions of dollars that are paid out in taxes as a burden on the public to compensate for the influence of “development”. Adding to the heavy load is the reality that those who profited the most rarely pay taxes. Good tax lawyers and strategic economic meanderings very often take high profiting corporations off the hook. All that has been spent to restore critical aspects of ecological function is a fraction of what will need to be spent going forward by generations to follow. Because the decline of the health of the natural world often goes unnoticed it is less likely to get the real attention it needs. Nature has built into it a survival strategy that often acts as a buffer over time to compensate for the depletion of its ecological reserves.

One of the first steps in the development of UW’s efforts in restoring watersheds was to lay down the principles and definitions of restoration. This was done in order to clarify what restoration means in the context of our present watershed conditions. Ideally the conditions of pre-European contact would be a wonderful place to start as a point of reference. Given the level of human intervention on ecosystems services though we have found ourselves targeting the highest level of intrinsic ecological function and ecological need as out goals. Restoration is complex. Keystone species make it imperative to support their existence. Abundant clean clear cool water is a foundational component restoration goals. Above all is a vital unbiased science based monitoring program to quantify where the damage is being done, what needs to be done to mitigate it, what successes and failures result from restoration efforts. There are institutions heavily engaged in restoration ecology. UW’s role to date has been that of a watchdog and science contributor organization.

The burden of protecting and restoring is multifaceted because the deep social, economic and political implications of healing. At this stage of the Pacific Northwest ecosystems health we can very easily say it is tantamount to a catastrophic health crisis with little or no insurance to pay for it. The inequitable burden is destined to fall on generations to come if the world is to survive.

The vast majority of society is convinced that the conservation community is merely crying wolf on the world stage. A substantial element of western culture thinks that the resolute gestures of environmental organizations is a strategic element of a vast world conspiracy to socially engineer the world. From my heart and on behalf of Umpqua Watersheds I can assure you that the above is not the case. Above and beyond all our restoration ecology efforts are a core commitment to supporting life on our world. We have aligned ourselves to the best of our ability with the intrinsic resilience we see in nature. That is our cause. That is our commitment…regardless the cost. That is the form equity takes as we see it today. Walk with us and help us find solutions to these wicked problems and their associated intractable barriers.