Contributed by Peter Ganzlin
The main reason I joined the ICN was how I could improve and assess collaboration within my research area: forest restoration. Forest restoration has continued to evolve out of the mistakes we finally have realized from decades of obsessive fire suppression throughout the United States. Much of our western forests have shown excessive fuel accumulation and density leading to severe wildfire, low biodiversity and stagnated rates of nutrient cycling and productivity. Restoration treatments include forest thinning, prescribed burning and other landscape manipulations. I see this field as collaborative by definition. The main questions which scientists, policymakers and forest managers alike seek to answer, in my view are: what is the longevity of forest restoration treatments? How do we define success of a particular treatment? What are the short and long-term goals of forest restoration?
Assessing and answering these questions require interdisciplinary collaboration. Of course, we can always design a forest restoration prescription that only fulfills a goal related to our area of expertise. I am certain that if we designed a forest restoration treatment to maximize habitat for pine marten and ignored other potential benefits, pitfalls and goals, we would fall short of the full potential that could be realized via collaboration. In the field of forest restoration, collaboration need not be limited to linking goals and concerns of scientists, policymakers and managers, as is commonly emphasized, but also by fostering these linkages between scientists in other disciplines.
A publication I review and reflect on frequently was written by Maria Ruiz-Jaen and T. Mitchell Aide in 2005 and published in the journal Restoration Ecology. It is titled “Restoration Success: How is it being measured?”. The authors identify nine common goals to forest restoration treatments and posit them as indicators of restoration success. These “ecosystem attributes that define restoration success” include”
· Similar plant and animal diversity and community structure to a ‘reference site’
· Presence of indigenous species
· Presence of functional groups necessary for long-term stability
· The capacity of the physical environment to sustain reproducing populations
· ‘Normal’ ecosystem functioning
· Integration within the broader landscape
· Elimination of potential threats to the ecosystem (e.g. severe, uncharacteristic wildfire, bark beetle outbreaks)
· Resilience to natural disturbance
A quick perusal of this list shows the need for a host of scientific disciplines: plant ecology, forest management, community and landscape ecology, biogeography, wildlife ecology, entomology and fire ecology – just to name a few. I am excited by the opportunity for collaboration this field affords – and demands. I am concerned, however, by the rapidity that forest restoration treatments are being implemented on the landscape. There is still a lack of long-term data assessing the effect of these treatments on the landscape and its inhabitants. I think by linking the scientists who can determine the most effective, long-lasting restoration treatments with managers and policymakers who ultimately decide funding and implementation will be crucial before we attempt to conquer fire suppression’s legacy on a whim.