The search for a universal statement of goals for ecological restoration continues to generate discussion and controversy. I discuss the diverse roots of restoration ecology, and show how the complex lineages within the field have led to diverse, and divergent, sets of goals. I then review the three major themes that currently are used to develop statements of goals: restoration of species, restoration of whole ecosystems or landscapes, and the restoration of ecosystem services, and point out both the advantages and the limitations and problems associated with each category. Finally, I suggest that restoration ecology would be better served by recognizing that the diversity of conditions requiring restoration demands much flexibility in goal setting, and that restorationists should seek to develop guidelines for defining the sets of conditions under which different kinds of goals are appropriate. I further suggest that goals would be more easily and more appropriately set if restorationists would set forth at the outset the true scope and limitations of what is possible in a given project.
Key words: goal-setting, wetlands, conservation biology, ecosystem management, ecosystem services, landscape management.