Ecological restoration is an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity and sustainability. Frequently, the ecosystem that requires restoration has been degraded, damaged, transformed or entirely destroyed as the direct or indirect result of human activities, such as the intentional or unintentional introduction of invasive species. In some cases, impacts to ecosystems have been caused or aggravated by natural agents such as wildfire, floods or storms, to the point at which the ecosystem cannot recover to its pre-disturbance state.
Restoration consists of removing or modifying a specific disturbance, thereby allowing ecological processes to recover. Restoration also may require the deliberate reintroduction of native species that have been lost, along with the elimination or control or harmful, invasive species.
When the desired outcome is realized, the ecosystem under manipulation may no longer require external assistance to ensure its future health and integrity, in which case restoration can be considered complete. Nevertheless, the restored ecosystem often requires continuing management to counteract the invasion of opportunist species and the impacts of various human activities, climate change and other unforeseeable events. In this respect, a restored ecosystem is no different from an undamaged ecosystem of the same kind, and both are likely to require some level of ecosystem management.
Native Plant and Seed Sources
Depending on the site conditions, goals for restoration and resources available, native plant material in the form of a seed mix or nursery stock can be used to restore a site once the invasive plants have been removed.
It is an ideal situation if the expertise, equipment and staff are available to produce propagated native plant material or native seed on site for the restoration project. However, this is usually not feasible. Native plant material is available from retail or wholesale nurseries or specialized growers. Native seed is available from commercial seed suppliers. Choosing a supplier who specializes in native plants and seeds is desirable, but is not always an option.
Select nurseries or plant growers that have experience working in your ecoregion and carry plant materials or can collect plant materials from the area in which you are doing the project (within the same ecoregion). The supplier should have staff knowledgeable about local native flora. If specific plants are to be grown for the restoration project, interview the grower about their knowledge of propagating all planned species.
Find out where and how the plants they are selling have been grown. Plants may have been grown in a very different part of the country and would thus not be well-suited for the restoration site. Make sure plant material has never been dug in the wild and removed from its natural habitat. Nursery owners and growers should assure the customer that all plants have been "nursery propagated." This means that staff have collected only seeds or cuttings from the wild, and have not removed whole plants from the wild. You should also ask the supplier for information about the original location of the parent plant material so you can determine how locally adapted the plants might be. Good native plant nurseries will have this type of information on record. If plants have been salvaged, ask the staff person where and how they were salvaged. Ethical salvage occurs when plants are removed before some type of construction or destruction takes place and always with the landowners' permission.
To learn more about native plants resources, visit DCNR's native plant website.