Restoring a Resilient Earth for a Modern World
April 08, 2021
With each passing season, we’re learning more about how life and our future on this planet is at a tipping point. Thousands of years of decisions about how to use our lands have caused these challenges for our earth. Nearly eight billion people are competing to advanced technology at the potential expense of biology. The question is when will we realize that human progress and long-term environmental health is not a zero-sum game? The modern world offers incredible potential to fulfill humanity’s aspirations for happiness and deeper purpose. As long as we find our way towards keeping the balance, applying the science of ecology to restore our land and waters is one of the footholds we need to get there. For Pennsylvania’s Buck Run, a stream mitigation project about seven miles long, it all started with a minnow. When you’re building large new highways to serve growing populations, crossing streams is unavoidable. For the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission’s Southern Beltway Project, finding a way to offset those impacts meant improving how a series of nearby streams could better serve people, plants, and animals throughout the watershed.
After decades of having their paths altered by humans, these streams ran too fast, picking up too much sediment and too many pollutants along the way. Because of this, the unhealthy water quality had caused the redside dace, a native sensitive minnow species that requires a cold clear stream habitat in order to survive, to largely disappear from this part of the watershed. The presence of minnows like this dace indicates good water quality and overall stream health – what RES calls, ecological integrity. It was time to bring the minnows back. RES was able to work with local landowners to start restoring at the headwaters of the stream system, which allowed them to improve conditions within the watershed, helping far downstream. Three years into the long-term monitoring of the restoration, the steadiness of the stream channel indicates its continued health. This and the full return of the redside dace minnows alongside other thriving insects and amphibians. The surrounding human and wetland vegetation communities benefited, too.
As the new stream bank improved, the flood storage capacity of the surrounding land and created the conditions to fill the water table with clean water. It is said that wetlands are the kidneys of the earth. And the Buck Run headwaters finally run clean as living proof that a healthy ecosystem can exist without sacrificing human progress.
On the opposite coast, another story of balance and renewal is unfolding on a much larger scale. A massive project that has been in planning for decades is reopening more than 400 miles of historical habitat along the Klamath River and its tributaries in Oregon and California. By removing four aging hydroelectric dams under an agreement supported by the dam’s owners. Over time, the dams have deeply compromised the Klamath’s salmon population by cutting off their historic habitat and raising the water temperature, creating the conditions for a toxic blue-green algae to grow and harmful parasites to thrive.
The fall out of this forced one Native American tribe, whose culture and livelihood is revolved around this river and the salmon since pre-Colombian times, to close their fisheries for the first time in history. There was simply no way to harvest salmon responsibly with such a dwindling and endangered population. The Klamath River Renewal Project makes the future look more promising. It signifies not just an agreement, but a vision shared by its 23 signatories to remove the dams and fully restore the river and its connected ecosystems. Restoring the river’s natural path, uninterrupted, through the former reservoir footprints and to the sea will bring life back into balance for the endangered salmon and Native American tribes that depend on them. RES will lead the historic restoration effort, following removal of the dams with a multi-year performance commitment as part of its model of long-term stewardship. It’s an important example of giving the science of ecology a seat at the table in land-use decisions. And completing the project with integrity means incorporating the scientific expertise and traditional knowledge of area tribes to better inform RES’s knowledge and technical skills.
The Yurok, Karuk, Klamath, Hoopa, and other native tribes have stewarded this ecosystem for millennia. And RES will work closely with them to implement a shared vision of a restored landscape. Buck Run and Klamath River are very different projects with different issues and certainly scale. But the approach to each is the same. RES designs, builds, maintains, and sustains every project as one team. Working with landowners and other stakeholders. Fully owning the challenge to preserve the environmental balance of every project they touch. Making a commitment to study, restore, and then stay with the entire ecosystem over time to guarantee its self-sufficiency is the only way to see a project through with integrity. This ensures that each ecosystem can show its resiliency through storms, changing climates, and the footprint of human activity. This the RES way.
RES’s growing team of talented, innovative, and creative problem solvers are creating ecological uplift, leveraging nature’s own processes to protect and restore ecosystems impacted by human development. Engineers, ecologists, foresters, land managers, construction crews, hydrologists, nursery staff, biologists, designers, everyone at RES is a long-term steward of the earth. And everything we touch is in service of this stewardship. Land and waters, native species, biodiverse habitats, coastlines, and oceans all must thrive side-by-side with human progress.
Elliott Bouillion : (06:46)
Restoration is a win-win for both humanity and the environment, but only if there’s a repeatable model that supports sustainability and responsibility. This is at the heart of RES.