The Art and Science of Restoration


Tropical Island Recovery. Cousine Island, Seychelles . Samways, M., P. Hitchens, O. Bourquin and J. Henwood , editors . 2011 . Wiley-Blackwell , West Sussex , U.K. 260 pp. $104 (hardcover). ISBN 978–1-4443–3309-1 . 
Rat Island. Predators in Paradise and the World's Greatest Wildlife Rescue . Stolzenburg, W. , editor . 2011 . Bloomsbury , New York , NY , U.S.A. 288 pp. $26 (hardcover). ISBN 978–1-60819–103-1 . 
Restoring Disturbed Landscapes. Putting Principles into Practice . Tongway, D. J. and J. A. Ludwig , editors . 2011 . Island Press , Washington , D.C. , U.S.A. 216 pp. $30 (paperback). ISBN 978–1-57805–581-2 . 
The Carrifran Wildwood Story . Ashmole, M. and P. Ashmole , editors . 2009 . Borders Forest Trust , Jedburgh , Scotland , U.K. 224 pp. £15 (paperback). ISBN 978–0-9534346–4-0. Purchasable online from or .

Biodiversity conservation recently lost two of its greatest champions. Originally from the fjords of New Zealand, Richard Henry spent the last three decades of his life enjoying the good life on offshore islands. He lived to be over 80 years old, was known for his distinct voice, and leaves behind one daughter and two sons, including Sinbad of Codfish Island. He was found dead on Christmas Eve 2010. Richard Henry was a parrot—a kakapo (Strigops habroptilus). The Kakapo is critically endangered; there are only 131 living individuals. Richard Henry's genes are playing a crucial role in the survival of the species.

Four months after the death of Henry, Don Merton passed away. Merton, who discovered and named Richard Henry, saved the kakapo from extinction. He once stated, “Endangered means it is never too late.” Merton proved this to be true multiple times during his life. He pioneered methods and programs that saved many species from extinction, and these are now textbook examples. In 1980, only five Chatham Island Robins (Petroica traversi) survived; today, there are more than 200 in the wild. Don Merton led the innovative program that saved the species and focused initially on Old Blue, the sole remaining breeding female. Over his 40-year career, Merton's efforts were centered on aggressive actions that saved species and restored ecosystems. Four recent books highlight Merton's steadfast commitment to nature conservation, reaffirming that it is rarely too late to stop extinctions and restore ecosystems.

Will Stolzenburg's Rat Island—dedicated to Merton and Henry—chronicles the asymmetrical geography of species extinctions, the calamity of non-native, invasive species, and the crew of practitioners reversing the extinction rate on islands across the globe. Rat Island starts in New Zealand, celebrating the homeland of island conservation and invasive species management. Stolzenburg introduces us to the heroes, trials, and actions over the past decades that are grounds for celebration among the gloom and doom of environmental conservation. Invasive rats have been removed from more than 100 islands across New Zealand, and many of the country's native species has been brought back from the brink of extinction. Stolzenburg documents a “blitzkrieg without compromise” that includes helicopters, hundreds of tons of poisoned bait, and endless kilometers of traplines. Island conservation is not for the fainthearted. Embarking on an offshore global journey, Stolzenburg elegantly tells tales of conservation success. From Mexico to the Galapagos to the Aleutians, island ecosystems are being restored and species saved by an eclectic, small group of conservation professionals working tirelessly toward removing invasive mammals. As in his previous book, Where the Wild Things Were, Stolzenburg turns science and conservation practice into a compelling story for the public. He delivers not only hope, but also an objective view into a complex and emotionally charged endeavor: killing one species to save another.

During the latter part of his career, Don Merton exported his kiwi skills and optimism to other parts of the world, including the Indian Ocean. In the 1980s, he helped develop a program to save the Mauritius parakeet (Psittacula eques) from extinction—only three females were known to exist. Today, there are more than 300 birds in the wild. Indian Ocean islands are now the focus of many restoration programs: invasive mammals are being removed and extirpated species are being reintroduced. In Tropical Island Recovery, Michael Samways and colleagues document the restoration and management of Cousine Island—a gem of biological diversity in the Seychelles.

The small, privately owned island is one of the best-managed islands in the world and a tourist destination. Samways and colleagues document the rich, four-decade history of restoration efforts on the island and the people that made it happen. First, invasive mammals were removed. Management plans were then designed and implemented that targeted the greater challenge of eradication and control of invasive plants. Those efforts were followed by the cultivation of native plants and science-based monitoring and restoration. A number of endangered species have been repatriated to Cousine Island. Practitioners translocated Old Man and seven other Seychelle Magpie Robins (Copsychus sechellarum) to Cousine. The program contributed to recovery of the species, which once consisted of 20 birds. Seychelle giant tortoises (Aldabrachelys gigantean) were nearly extirpated from the archipelago as a result of human settlement in the mid-1700s. Today, due to successful translocation programs, giant tortoises are present on Cousine Island. Although Tropical Island Recovery best serves natural historians as a reference book on Cousine Island's biological diversity, it also presents an important case study that chronicles the journey of realizing place-based conservation.

The removal of invasive species, the reintroduction of extirpated species, and other aggressive restoration actions are no longer limited to islands. Successful programs are being increasingly reported on continents. Many are even happening at the urban interface. In Restoring Disturbed Landscapes, Tongway and Ludwig provide a science-based roadmap for repairing degraded landscapes, from rangelands to mining sites, that are sometimes written off as hopeless prospects for the support of biological diversity and provision of ecosystem services. The authors prove otherwise. Their approach (“You can't fix something unless you know how it works”) provides a replicable and practical approach to restoring degraded sites on the basis of five fundamental steps: setting clear goals, defining the problem, designing solutions, applying technologies, and monitoring the effects of those technologies. The book should prove useful to train a variety of students: ecologists, engineers, city planners, and even architects. Tongway and Ludwig focus primarily on restoring goods and services to landscapes. Yet, their model provides value to a complementary goal of restoring aesthetic value and reconnecting society with nature. The Carrifan Wildwood Project exemplifies such an effort.

In The Carrifran Wildwood Story, Myrtle and Phillip Ashmole tell the inspiring story of a community-based effort in the southern uplands of Scotland. In 1993 a network of friends had an idea: transform an entire valley in southern Scotland into the kind of forest that would have existed there 6000 years ago. Today in southern Scotland, one cannot wander among wild native woodlands nor see signs of lynx (Lynx lynx), bears (Ursus arctos), and other bygone mammals. The Carrifran Wildwood Group is changing that. They are rewilding a Scottish valley, with some remarkable success.

In reviewing these books, I am reminded of Michael Soulé and my dad. Soulé often compared the field of conservation biology with the field of medicine: a crisis discipline that relies on multidisciplinary sciences to make decisions with imperfect information. My father, a retired physician, has often told me that practicing medicine is as much of an art as it is a science. I believe this is particularly true for restoration. It was a blend of art and science that saved Old Blue's and Old Man's species from extinction. As restoration becomes increasingly important in our human-dominated world, the role of art and science will be a weighty topic of discussion. Debates are already underway on such topics as assisted colonization, rewilding, and eradication of invasive species. Place-based restoration efforts should be science driven, but will also be human centered by design. The stories in these books demonstrate that aggressive conservation action, even with imperfect knowledge, often leads to positive outcomes for conservation.

The pages of these books are testament to what Don Merton and his colleagues have always firmly believed: conservation of biological diversity is by people and about people. A network of strong-willed people around the globe are chalking up conservation successes. Although environmental gloom and doom often makes better copy, these books provide grounds for optimism. The world just needs more people like Don Merton, and I hope these books will inspire young people to continue Merton's legacy.