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Keywords:

  • adaptive management;
  • backcasting;
  • ecological restoration;
  • guiding image;
  • large-scale;
  • milestones;
  • restoration ecology;
  • scenario planning;
  • shifting baselines;
  • stretch goals

Abstract

The destruction and transformation of ecosystems by humans threatens biodiversity, ecosystem function, and vital ecosystem services. Ecological repair of ecosystems will be a major challenge over the next century and beyond. Restoration efforts to date have frequently been ad hoc, and site or situation specific. Although such small-scale efforts are vitally important, without large-scale visions and coordination, it is unlikely that large functioning ecosystems will ever be constructed by chance through the cumulative effects of small-scale projects. Although the problems of human-induced environmental degradation and the need for a solution are widely recognized, these issues have rarely been addressed on a sufficiently large-scale basis. There are numerous barriers that prevent large-scale ecological restoration projects from being proposed, initiated, or carried through. Common barriers include the “shifting baseline syndrome,” the scale and complexity of restoration, the long-term and open-ended nature of restoration, funding challenges, and preemptive constraint of vision. Two potentially useful approaches that could help overcome these barriers are stretch goals and backcasting. Stretch goals are ambitious long-term goals used to inspire creativity and innovation to achieve outcomes that currently seem impossible. Backcasting is a technique where a desired end point is visualized, and then a pathway to that end point is worked out retrospectively. A case study from the Scottish Highlands is used to illustrate how stretch goals and backcasting could facilitate large-scale restoration. The combination of these approaches offers ways to evaluate and shape options for the future of ecosystems, rather than accepting that future ecosystems are victims of past and present political realities.