Posts Tagged ‘Restoration ecology’

Intelligent tinkering : a personal account of the science and practice of ecological restoration

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

You’re interested in the real world application of the knowledge and methods of ecological science, and especially restoration ecology? Maybe you’re interested in how the practice of ecological restoration can inform ecological theory? Whichever way, Robert J. Cabin has some interesting stories to tell on the complex and often awkward relationships between the practice of ecological restoration and the science of restoration ecology.

He tells his stories in Intelligent Tinkering, a book published by Island Press in 2011. The book starts off with a personal account of how, as an aspiring research ecologist, R.J. Cabin got drawn to the hands-in-the-mud nitty-gritty business of getting restoration plans off the ground, or rather, in the ground. He participated in planing countless native trees and shrubs in order to restore tropical dry forests in Hawaii.

Restoring these forests involved working with many different stakeholders, who often had diverging agendas. It also involved project management and hard physical labour. There was some science in there too, but it’s role didn’t follow the standard model of knowledge feeding into action… Trained as a research ecologist, maybe this model is what R.J. Cabin had initially expected to encounter when coming to Hawaii to work on restoration. The real world is just a lot more messy.

His account of how he confronted this is very interesting, and you get to learn a lot about the island’s ecology, and politics. Good writing makes it easy to follow. In a second part of the book, he tries to outline a few things he learned from that experience. This attempt to theorize the links between science and practice comes a bit short however, both in style (especially given the quality of the first part of the book), and in content.

Many authors have explored how science and practice interact but no grand theory has emerged. As R.J. Cabin explains, maybe that’s because no final, widely shared, definition has been given to either… Anyway, the key message from the book is probably that, in the end, getting things done is what matters.