FCE LTER Journal Articles


Balancing Wetland Restoration Benefits to People and Nature


Wetland ecosystems support a diverse natural biota and provide vital services to people, such as freshwater and food, water purification, and flood prevention. Humans have been using such services for millennia for agriculture, aquaculture, and urban development, among other activities, which often led to widespread wetland degradation. Although wetland restoration is valued and practiced in many regions, conflicts between economic interests of stakeholders, such as developers and conservationists, often hamper restoration progress. To identify some principles for best wetland restoration practices, we qualitatively analyzed restoration progress in the Greater Everglades (USA), the Murray-Darling Basin (Australia), and other wetlands in less affluent regions. Insights from our case studies and experience allow us to conclude that: 1) to help better define goals of restoration, reference baselines can be identified using paleoecological, historical, and long-term ecological records on multiple organisms and their relationships with the natural environment; 2) to define meaningful and shifting restoration targets, it is important to model future scenarios of wetland social-ecological systems, taking into account long-term environmental changes that are often non-linear; 3) restoration planning must address conflicts between competing needs of human and biological communities and would benefit from more input from social science researchers and stakeholders; 4) wetland management plans can encompass the needs of humans for sustainable agriculture, aquaculture, and eco-tourism, as well as support biodiversity conservation and wise use of resources. We propose that independent mediators, or wetland restoration brokers, be nominated by independent bodies to help settle conflicts among stakeholders and between stakeholders and the environment, especially in economically important regions with tensions between different socio-economic interests. Wetland restoration activities must ultimately benefit indigenous / non-indigenous human communities and as many species as possible whilst taking into account all ecosystem services, including wetlands’ existence value.


Originally published in Solutions.



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