The in-process restoration image above and others like it reveal a ‘nature’ of intentional construction. Deliberate restoration efforts run contrary to the common notion of letting disturbed sites ‘just go back to nature’ on their own. Unfortunately, the pristine, place-specific nature implied in such assumptions rarely exists anymore.
As a recent mammoth post discussed, our collective human ecology characterized by hypermobility and pervasive disturbance regimes, has endangered endemic or ‘native’ natures, which often have to be strategically designed and constructed in order to successfully reclaim locations they formerly occupied. These efforts are challenged by stiff competition from exotic weed species and the short time frames in which we expect these habitats to re-establish (i.e. skipping past early successional stages).
Restoration can be seen as the applied science of accelerated, or jump-start ecological succession and an active resistance to spontaneous colonization by aggressive foreign undesirables. The materiality of restoration – the regimes of seeding, plantings, weed mats, tacified mulches, sapling protection tubes, temporary irrigation systems and various other restoration paraphernalia – provide a visible testament to the amount of work necessary to produce native plant communities in the globally mixed ecologies we have inadvertently created. As the practice of restoration becomes more and more challenging in tandem with ever-increasing amounts of exotic weeds, these regimes will likely become more and more pervasive, and persistent in the landscape.
Of interest is the temporary installation-like quality of restoration practices – the way it often resembles some sort of unintended conceptual art project (which arguably it very much is), a totemic relic of an unspecified ritual, tinker toys for adults.
Restoration installations are designed to be ephemeral. If restoration is successful, the infrastructure that went into creating them eventually disappears through decomposition or active removal. With the temporary evidence of the habitat’s construction removed, its constructed history often vanishes as well and the constructed landscape becomes assumed ‘natural’ habitat.
As we inevitably will continue to disturb more ground and globally mix in more and more invasive weeds, will the future landscape be more full of these as-yet isolated jump-start armatures? Will they eventually be the only remains of local or indigenous nature? Will restoration practices incrementally require more material and labor?