From the myth of a lost paradise to targeted river restoration: forget natural references and focus on human benefits

 Dufour, S. and H. Piégay. 2009. River Research and Applications 25:568-581.

This paper is a “thought” piece from a European perspective that resulted from a series of talks held at the International Conference on River Restoration in Venice (June 2008). Although focused specifically on river restoration, it asks a lot of really good questions about why we are doing restoration in the first place – asks more questions than it answers. The authors address concepts of reference-based versus objective-based restoration, and argue that attempting to revert back to a historical or “pristine” condition is self-defeating, and that both static and trajectory-based (i.e., concepts of ecosystem resilience) references are not useful for setting restoration targets in the dynamic and disturbance-dominated fluvial system. They suggest that defining clear objectives for a restoration project requires thinking about that project within a broader spatial and temporal context, and that human benefits should be the driving factor. While this might seem controversial (as the title hopes to suggest), they clearly articulate that human benefits include ecosystem functions, wildlife habitat, etc – not just the obvious ecosystem services one might think of as directly beneficial to society. They suggest that reference or historical conditions are critical to understanding the potential functioning of a site, but that the ultimate targets/objectives for a restoration should be driven by society wishes. I think that this happens a lot in practice anyway, but is not acknowledged because it can come off as arbitrary or unscientific/unobjective.

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