Revegetation Guiding Principles

Wildland Scapes has worked on a variety of revegetation projects in the Moab area over the last 20 years – some under 1/2 an acre and others over 30 acres. Some of our projects have been with developers or private land owners, while others have been in cooperation with Rim to Rim Restoration and focused on publicly owned land where restoration and revegetation funding is non existent.

[Natural regeneration} involves two very different kinds of time. The first is the time spent working. This includes traveling, primary weeding, and follow-up. If the work is done by paid labor, this time costs money. The second is the time spent waiting, while native plants grow and stabilize each weeded area in turn. This time costs patience, but no money at all…. Most of our time spent is simply waiting time.

Joan & Eileen Bradley

Bringing Back the Bush

Revegetation and Restoration Philosophy and Guiding Principles

The goal of WLS’ work is to heal damaged landscapes. Our first basic tenant is “Do no harm.” We need to base our actions on careful evaluation of site conditions, site damage, and the area’s restoration potential. Questions to think about include:

• Will a change in land use allow the land to heal itself?
• Is the change politically feasible?
• If it is, can we assist the land in healing?
• If it is not, is it still worth the time and resources to try to heal the land?
• Why or why not?

Some of these questions may be self-evident, particularly when a course of action is clear. However, no matter how obvious a course of action appears, it is important to evaluate the site conditions and restoration potential before acting to insure we make conscious decisions to heal the land, rather than inadvertently cause more problems.

With all projects our first task is to determine what has caused the damage, and if that activity or agent can be removed. In some situations, our only action may be to remove this cause and then get out of the way; our role may be purely administrative or political. In other situations, we may decide we need to intervene with on-the-ground activity to help the site heal itself.

If intervention is necessary and advisable, we need to decide which intervention philosophy to follow. There are four general restoration philosophies that Wildland Scapes follows in our work. Each dictates certain acceptable strategies for soil and vegetation disturbance, plant choice and source, invasive exotics, etc.

These philosophies are:
• restoration,
• natural regeneration
• revegetation
• wildland landscaping.

While restoration is sometimes used as an umbrella term encompassing all four, it has its own distinct definition as an intervention strategy. In our context, restoration may include the other three strategies, but it implies a complete restoration of the habitat and ecological functions – something that is rarely feasible.

Restoration is appropriate in areas where the activity that damaged the land is no longer occurring and ecological functions can be restored completely. Remember that restoration seeks to regain natural functioning processes and structure to stabilize damaged land, in the process rebuilding healthy habitat. Restoration attempts to mimic natural patterns, abundance, and distribution of vegetation on a site. It does not mean simply putting plants into the ground. Plants used in restoration maintain the genetic trace of local natural selections; i.e., all plants are taken from adjacent geographic areas and similar landscape types. Structural work may be necessary to stabilize soils and slopes. Invasive exotic weeds are removed to the best of our ability. (This may require many years of follow-up.)

Natural regeneration, like restoration, is appropriate in weed-infested areas where the activity that introduced and/or favored the weed is now absent. Natural regeneration works to favor native plants, and thus is particularly relevant when the primary problem is invasive exotic plants. It is also the least invasive method of restoring native plant communities. The three basic principles of natural regeneration (with some exceptions and variations) are:

1) work outwards from areas of healthy native plant systems to damaged areas;
2) make minimal disturbance to the environment, and
3) DO NOT OVERCLEAR – let the rate of native plant regeneration dictate the rate of weed removal.

Natural regeneration reminds us that most likely the land did not become damaged overnight, and it will take at least as long to help repair it.

Revegetation is appropriate in areas where human activities will dominate the landscape. This may be in developments where the lots are large, in heavily used areas, or in high use frontcountry and backcountry situations. Revegetation projects are designed to replace plants or vegetative cover to repair damage caused by human activities.

Revegetation may include:
• weeding,
• direct seeding,
• vegetative reproduction,
• planting seedlings, and/or
• transplanting mature specimens.

Revegetation seeks to mimics patterns, abundance, and distribution of plant species, but does not necessarily maintain the genetic trace of plants in the area. It may involve stabilization of slopes and soils, and does address invasive exotic species. The goal of revegetation is to recreate plant communites that cannot be easily distinguished from the healthy habitat surrounding it.

Wildland landscaping is most appropriate in residential areas, “front country” campgrounds, and other highly used areas. It does not necessarily mimic patterns, abundance, or distribution of native plant species. Invasive exotic plant species are controlled, but some plants in the project may not be strictly locally native species. However, no invasive exotics will be introduced. A wildland landscaped area might even use an irrigation system to help establish vegetation.

Most of these strategies center around mimicking natural patterns in the landscape. The ability to mimic “natural” areas depends on how well we have studied “reference” areas of relatively “pristine” native plant communities. It is also crucial to know the history of events that led to the current land condition. The background of local adaptations, ranges of plant survival, and habitat requirements are important factors in planning intervention strategies. A detailed knowledge of ecological interactions in general, and an understanding of the site history in particular, are vital to designing an appropriate restoration, natural regeneration, revegetation, or wildland landscaping project.

Preferred Revegetation Strategies & Techniques

The Bradley Method of Bush Regeneration is the basis for WLS’ preferred restoration strategy. The Bradley Method is a natural regeneration technique pioneered by Joan and Eileen Bradley, two women in Sydney, Australia. Their work occurred in urban parks and park land near urban areas and relies on labor-intensive hand-weeding methods, followed by periods of waiting. The Bradley Method’s goal is to shift the balance of the plant mosaic from favoring weeds to favoring native plants.   In the large damaged areas around Moab this method has limitations. However, there are several strategies for helping it along which can make it quite viable. These include: reestablishing native plants by transplanting plants, pole plantings, planting seedlings, and seeding. Bringing Back the Bush: the Bradley Method of Bush Regeneration is a highly recommended (and short) book providing a more detailed explanation of this strategy.