Restoring degraded ecosystems around Seattle and giving them a fighting chance to stay healthy can be as much about PR as the right plants. That's what students learn through the University of Washington's Restoration Ecology Network, a program of teaching and research recognized nationally in this week's issue of Science magazine.
Canvassing neighbors, finding and managing volunteers, preparing educational materials, posting signs and attending neighborhood meetings can be crucial to the success of the restoration projects undertaken by teams of students. "Through this process, we have watched students come to understand that science is necessary, but not sufficient for successful restoration," writes Warren Gold, associate professor at UW Bothell and lead author of the Education Forum piece, "Collaborative Ecological Restoration" in Science.
The Restoration Ecology Network, established in 1999, is a three-campus program. Among its offerings is a yearlong series of courses that gives UW the chance to connect with the surrounding communities and students the chance for real-world experience working with local parks and agencies, utilities, non-profits and private firms, according to Kern Ewing, professor with the UW Botanic Gardens and a co-author on the piece in Science.
Working in groups of four to six, student projects this year ranged from finding ways to make a rambling corner lot in Laurelhurst more inviting for birds and neighbors to removing a 10-foot wall of blackberries in order to reclaim a streamside area for native plants in the UW Botanic Gardens.
Without stewardship, restored ecosystems will only degrade again, which is why it's so good for students to learn how to do community outreach and work with clients, Gold says. Teams craft stewardship plans, train their clients in the plan and galvanize community support to ensure long-term project success.