A Declaration of Civic Principles for Responsible Forest Restoration

June 1999

We have tried on a large scale the experiment of preferring ourselves to the exclusion of all other creatures, with results that are manifestly disastrous…To answer to the perpetual crisis of our presence in this abounding and dangerous world, we have only the perpetual obligation of care. –Wendell Berry, Another Turn of the Crank

The Grand Canyon Forests Partnership was created by a diverse collection of groups and individuals, each deeply concerned about the health and long-term viability of the forests of the southern Colorado Plateau. Through working together, this group created a vision and strategy for restoration of these forests which represents their collective desire to care for these lands in a responsible manner.

Yet, we recognize that care for the land, by itself, is not adequate insurance against the inadvertent damage to land, either in its use or in our efforts to correct misuse. With this awareness, we have formulated the following set of principles that we propose as fundamental preconditions for the responsible implementation of restoration efforts. Together they serve to create a balancing weight of restraint against our almost instinctual urge to act. It is our strong conviction that any significant restoration initiative implemented on public lands should include measures reflecting the following principles.

Principle I: Clearly defined ecological goals and objectives must be the first priority of restoration efforts.

Part of the confusion and conflict surrounding many approaches to forestry revolves around the ambiguity of objectives and priorities. “Sustainable Forestry” for example can variously refer to either restoration oriented forest management that emphasizes ecological objectives, or sustained production forestry which attempts to accommodate ecological concerns while maintaining economic benefits. We believe restoration must clearly place ecological goals and objectives as the first priority of restoration efforts. We recognize that economic opportunities may be created as by-products of these restoration activities, and that often such opportunities will be an important factor in determining the feasibility of particular strategies for restoration. However, ecological objectives must clearly drive and determine restoration strategies.

Principle II: Start small, increase scale in measured incremental steps.

Restoration as a scientific discipline is relatively young. Restoration as a set of concepts and practices has a longer history but is often more of an aggregation of local knowledge, institutional culture and custom, and practitioner perceptions. Given these conditions, it would be unwise to assume we can accurately predict all consequences of restoration actions. Consequently, restoration initiatives should start at scales compatible with the knowledge and experience available in each area. Restoration efforts must have a solid scientific foundation and include extensive and ongoing monitoring and evaluation which informs any subsequent activity. Implementation should proceed in incremental steps e.g. small test plots preceding larger treatment blocks; treatment blocks preceding landscape scale implementation.

Principle III: Locate projects in areas with substantial agreement on restoration goals.

Despite the substantial risks for large scale disturbances in many areas of our public lands, certain restoration treatments in these areas may also create impacts which could jeopardize the very values we hope to protect. Consequently, restoration experiments should begin in areas where there exists substantial agreement on the need for treatments. Examples might include urban-wildland interfaces with high wildfire risks; critical spawning habitat being damaged by sedimentation; or areas in which critical habitats are being lost due to exotic species invasions or increasing tree densities. Attempting to initiate relatively untested restoration strategies in controversial areas such as National Parks, Wilderness Areas, or roadless areas will only perpetuate conflict and substantially delay support for responsible restoration initiatives. Conversely, there are areas in which risks to human life and values have already targeted an area for treatment. Such areas make logical test sites since treatment would likely occur irrespective of restoration priorities.

Much of the current resistance towards implementing restoration programs is based on the fear that such treatments will soon be widely applied across broad areas without adequate knowledge and experience of the potential negative impacts. Taken together, principles one, two, and three provide the basis for developing a program of experimentation and an associated map of suitable sites with which a bounded, incremental process of learning and experimentation can be initiated.

Principle IV: Effective restoration will require substantial reinvestment. Restoration should not be expected to pay for itself.

Decades of extractive activities and other management practices such as fire exclusion have substantially depleted the ecological “capital” of many ecosystems. As a result, the ecological surplus, the “interest” produced by this ecological capital, has been substantially depleted. As a result, in many places we have been living off the principal of our lands, not simply its surplus or interest. Before the land is capable of providing a long-term flow of “interest” in the form of goods and services (whether it be forest products or recreation opportunities) we must rebuilt the ecological capital through substantial reinvestment in the land. These investments will create economic opportunities and goods and service byproducts. However, it is essential that these economic and social benefits are the by-products of restoration, not the primary objectives.

Principle V: Utilize an inclusive, open and comprehensive process for identifying and designing restoration projects.

There are three important elements in developing an effective restoration strategy. First, all interested stakeholders should be given the chance for substantive involvement. Repeated experience throughout the country has demonstrated that land management and restoration is not simply a scientific or technical process, it is also fundamentally a social one. This implies that we need to be aware of the range of groups, including communities of place and interest, who feel they have a stake in the outcome of a restoration program, and clearly understand their issues. In some cases, we may also need to make special provisions to enable the involvement of such groups or individuals. At the same time, effective involvement requires a commitment by all parties to engage in constructive dialogue and participation. All parties should be held to the same standards of honesty, consistency, and respect.

Second, new approaches to disseminating information will be needed which recognize the different levels of understanding and experience present in each major stakeholder group. Our larger success in reorienting human values and behavior towards a culture and practice of restoration will require the support, participation and long-term commitment of a broad-base of the public. For example, restoration will inherently involve making choices between different potential outcomes of restoration treatments. One approach to restoration might, for example, favor a certain species or forest type over another. If the public is not well informed about these choices, it is subject to easy capture by those with a narrow self interest and the ability to promote this self-interest. In a similar vein, if the public is not committed to the purposes of restoration, it will be unwilling to make the personal tradeoffs and sacrifices that effective restoration efforts will inevitably necessitate. Accessible, unbiased, and understandable information is an essential foundation for public evaluation and commitment to restoration objectives.

Third, the scope of restoration must include the full range of activities necessary to truly restore ecological functions, not simply those that are most popular or profitable. To this end, the development of a forest ecosystem restoration strategy needs to consider impacts on a range of ecological characteristics and processes such as stand modification, hydrological function, riparian system improvements, natural disturbances (fire, insects disease etc.), and soil conditions. Focusing exclusively on one component of a restoration process such as stand modification through tree harvest will inevitably compromise the credibility of the larger effort.

Principle VI: Build a thorough and well-balanced research program to evaluate effectiveness.

We need to acknowledge at the outset of our restoration efforts that there are substantial areas of uncertainty which surround restoration theory and practice. This uncertainty not only affects the effectiveness of practices, it has a dramatic impact on public understanding and acceptance in a restoration program. At the same time, it is essential that restoration practices have a rigorous scientific foundation which distinguishes between values, perceptions and replicable phenomena. Thus, an essential first step in a responsible restoration process, particularly those with potential impacts on larger landscapes, is the development of a comprehensive research agenda associated with the project. This research agenda should carefully document the questions which give rise to uncertainty. This includes not only the academic community, but also local communities, interest groups and other stakeholders. This set of questions then forms the basis of a research program which can begin to inform both the theory and ongoing practices of restoration. It also provides the framework for an ongoing dialogue and education of the broad set of constituencies who are concerned about the effectiveness of restoration practices. Research should include the range of knowledge available from scientific, practitioner, and indigenous sources.

Principle VII: Create an all-party monitoring process to assure credible implementation.

One of the core components of an effective research program is the formulation of a comprehensive monitoring program. We must have ways to evaluate the impacts and responses to restoration treatments. This feedback must then be incorporated as modifications in subsequent restoration activities enabling an adaptive, responsive management approach.

Monitoring is also an essential tool in building trust and support for responsible restoration practices. To do so, however, the monitoring program must include a broad set of stakeholders in refining the questions to be answered; developing acceptable protocol for monitoring; collecting monitoring data; and collectively interpreting results. Recognizing that monitoring is frequently not adequately funded, provisions must be built into restoration programs at the outset to insure adequate resources for comprehensive, inclusive monitoring.

The final step in the monitoring process is the development of an effective educational program that can bring the results of both research and monitoring to the broader public in forms that are both comprehensible and useful. In this way we may finally begin to provide society with timely feedback on the consequences, not only of restoration activities, but also the larger sphere of human actions and behavior which are effecting the ecological integrity of living systems.

Principle VIII: Strive to distribute the costs and benefits of restoration equitably.

We must recognize from the outset that restoration is not value neutral. Designing and implementing restoration programs will involve assigning priorities that affect how costs and benefits are distributed, both among humans and in the larger living systems. Designing restoration treatments for one species may lead to declines in another. Providing protection for one area or value may increase the risks to another.

A core principle of responsible restoration is the sincere effort to distribute these costs and benefits as equitably and justly as possible. In order to do so, we must explicitly discuss the range of trade-offs that are created as we favor certain values or features over others. This also implies that we attempt to insure that all parties affected by these choices, both human and non-human, are adequately represented in this process. In doing so, restoration provides the opportunity to demonstrate the interconnectedness of human and non-human communities. In this regard, local communities have a special role and responsibility, both in limiting negative impacts of human presence, and as a substantial part of the workforce involved in restoration activities.


Taken together, we believe the preceding seven principles represent a minimum measure of insurance against both our well-intended ignorance and our potential for careless misuse. It is our hope that this effort to outline fundamental civic principals for ecological restoration may serve as part of a larger movement committed to the restoration of both our public and private lands. As a partnership of diverse interests and views, we believe such a restoration movement will require new forums and processes of engagement which consider these issues in new ways. These will be places and spaces which affirm both the clear boundaries and limits necessary for protection, and embrace the necessity for care, each as integral remedies in the restoration–the healing–of our land and our people.