REFERENCE CONDITIONS AND ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION: A SOUTHWESTERN PONDEROSA PINE PERSPECTIVE

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Abstract

Ecological restoration is the process of reestablishing the structure and function of native ecosystems and developing mutually beneficial human–wildland interactions that are compatible with the evolutionary history of those systems. Restoration is based on an ecosystem's reference conditions (or natural range of variability); the difference between reference conditions and contemporary conditions is used to assess the need for restorative treatments and to evaluate their success. Since ecosystems are highly complex and dynamic, it is not possible to describe comprehensively all possible attributes of reference conditions. Instead, ecosystem characteristics with essential roles in the evolutionary environment are chosen for detailed study. Key characteristics of structure, function, and disturbance—especially fire regimes in ponderosa pine ecosystems—are quantified as far as possible through dendroecological and paleoecological studies, historical evidence, and comparison to undisrupted sites. Ecological restoration treatments are designed to reverse recent, human-caused ecological degradation. Testing of restoration treatments at four sites in northern Arizona, USA, has shown promise, but the diverse context of management goals and constraints for Southwestern forest ecosystems means that appropriate applications of restoration techniques will probably differ in various settings.

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