Ecological Restoration Principles for Fuel Reduction

W.W. Covington, Northern Arizona University Ecological Restoration Institute

Ten years ago, Carl Walters and Crawford S. Holling (ref to 1990 Ecology paper) memorably recommended “large-scale management experiments and learning by doing”. We have been pursuing this approach in what has been called “the Flagstaff Plan”. In collaboration with partners in the environmental community, conservation practitioners and interested parties from government and a range of organizations, my colleagues and I at the Ecological Restoration Institute at Northern Arizona University have developed a community-based general framework for the development of ecologically based restoration treatments.

  • Scientific framework. Ecological restoration is the restoration of natural ecosystem structures and processes. Ecological restoration treatments are based on reference conditions (the evolutionary environment context), a framework that considers evolutionary biology, conservation biology and ecosystem ecology principles.
  • Social and political framework. In an ecosystem ecology approach, social and political concerns play a major part in defining treatments. Therefore, it is imperative to engage stakeholders, especially community-based partnerships linked to regional and national agencies and interest groups, with policy-makers, natural resource specialists, and resource managers.
  • Operational framework. Financial and personnel constraints place geographical limits on treatments. Therefore, emphasis is placed on strategically located restoration fuel breaks that are anchor points for large, landscape-scale treatments. These fuel breaks can be established to protect key landscape ecosystem components such as human communities, critical habitat for threatened or endangered species, and core areas of greater ecosystems such as wilderness areas and national parks.
  • Ecosystem Management Framework. Restoration and fuel reduction goals should be integrated with overall ecosystem conservation and management goals; reference conditions serve as a starting point to the goal of scientifically based land management objectives.
  • Economic framework. Economic analyses should consider all costs and savings. Restoration-based fuel treatments save money by avoiding fire fighting and rehabilitation costs, and compensation for property damage. They also represent an investment in protecting firefighter and civilian lives. They present new opportunities for rural economic development through restoration-related jobs and products. Ecological economic analysis suggests that benefits greatly outweigh costs.
  • Ethical framework. We have a responsibility to future generations to solve ecosystem health problems. Ecological restoration speaks to land ethic–the human need and responsibility to be good stewards and demonstrate a caring concern for nature.

Unsupported inferences of high-severity fire in historical dry forests of the
western United States: A response to Williams and Baker
-By Dr. Pete Fulé, Professor of Forestry, Northern Arizona University