For restoration to be an effective strategy to reverse large-scale habitat loss and land degradation, funding programs need policies that promote selection of and commitment to projects that can reasonably be expected to succeed. Programmatic project selection practices have received minimal formal evaluation, despite their importance. In this study, we considered the extent to which a program needs to consider both ecological and organizational factors during project selection in order to minimize the incidence of project failure. Our assessment of a long-term program that funds ecological restoration efforts across Minnesota (U.S.A.), based on project records, manager surveys, and field surveys, yielded several broadly relevant insights. First, factors well understood to confer ecological resilience (level of landscape alteration and starting condition) were clearly associated with restoration outcomes, regardless of time-since-initiation of restoration. Second, restoration of low-resilience ecosystems is typically a labor- and skill-intensive enterprise for organizations that undertake them. Our analysis revealed four organizational limitations, in addition to insufficient funds, that hindered capacity to keep projects on-track: lack of planning and goal-setting, inadequate staffing, leadership change, and incomplete records. Third, to reduce risk, programs do not necessarily need to avoid challenging projects, but do need to consider whether organizations proposing restorations have adequate internal capacity to competently plan and to sustain actions for a duration sufficient to restore ecological resilience. If a restoration is degraded enough to require human intervention to recover, the outcome of a project is as likely to reflect its organizational reality as much as its ecological circumstances.
Bibliographical noteFunding Information:
We are grateful to project managers who responded to multiple requests for information, generously providing documents and answering questions about project details. We also thank the staff of the Legislative and Citizens Commission on Minnesota Resources who oriented us to project documents and their administration of projects. This research was financially supported by the Environment and Natural Resource Trust Fund. We appreciate the substantive advice and insights from Daniel Larkin and several anonymous reviewers.
Restoration of Midwestern U.S. prairies and wetlands from cropland typically requires 1–3 years of site preparation to reduce populations and seed banks of weeds and 3–7 years of intensive ongoing management following planting (mostly invasive species control) (Bohnen & Galatowitsch ; Smith et al. ; Galatowitsch & Zedler ). Incomplete site preparation, faulty seed mix design or poor seeding implementation, or lapses in postplanting management increase the risk of preemption by invasive species and arrested succession. Financial support for projects we evaluated was generally limited to a single grant award, in this case to fund the initial 2–3 years of work. Project managers frequently reported that after the initial grant they could not arrange sufficient funding to perform all needed work. Like many programs that fund restoration, the length of the grant period is too short to minimally support ecosystem recovery for low resilience or otherwise challenging situations (e.g. Holl & Aide ; Hodge & Adams ). In a review of publicly funded restoration programs in Sweden, Borgström et al. ( ) reported “project proliferation,” stemming from program administration that, despite increasing resources, strongly favored short‐term allocations and small, locally oriented projects. Given the short‐term nature of the funding in the program we evaluated, organizations would have needed to begin arranging for longer‐term resources at the onset of restorations, but this seems unlikely to have been typical, given over half of the projects had no written plan beyond the grant proposal, including prescriptions for the methods they planned to use. With few or no prospects for continued funding, there is little incentive for organizations to invest in longer range planning, which instead may foster a culture of unrealistic assumptions about the likelihood of unassisted recovery in low‐resilience situations.
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- habitat restoration policy
- land degradation and restoration
- restoration assessment
- restoration funding
- restoration planning
- restoration programs
- restoration success