Rim to Rim Restoration seeks to regenerate and repair damaged or altered landscapes. Primarily we seek to “do no harm”. To achieve this, thorough site evaluations are imperative to ensure actions we choose to implement will best regenerate the land, and not inadvertently cause more problems.
With all projects we first look 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 step away. In other situations, we may decide we need to intervene with on-the-ground actions to help the site regenerate itself. We always look for ways the least amount of work can facilitate the most regeneration.
Questions we ask when approaching a project:
- Will a change in land use allow the land to regenerate itself?
- Is a change in land use politically feasible?
- If a change is politically feasible, can we assist the land in regenerating more rapidly?
- If a change is not feasible, is it still worth the time and resources to try to repair or improve the site?
“…..two quite different kinds of time. The first is time spent working….If the work is done by paid labor, this time costs money. The second is the time spent waiting…This time costs patience, but no money at all”
Mill Creek at 100 West and 100 South in 2007 before significant Russian olive removal work was initiated, looking west
Same location in 2010, looking east
Same location in 2016, looking east
Work Time and waiting time
Location in Mill Creek Canyon before…
….and after Summer Youth Program work
Joan and Eileen Bradley, two sisters in Sydney, Australia worked in urban parks and nearby park land tackling invasive plants like lantana, privet and passion fruit vines starting in the middle of the 20th century. After years of work, mistakes and lessons, they realized that actions with the least disturbance, while they may seem slow and impractical, achieved the best result. In 1988 they published “Bringing Back the Bush: The Bradley Method of Bush Regeneration”. The Bradley Method is the basis for RRR’s approach to every project in SE Utah.
The Bradley Method begins with careful weeding and site repairs. After spending time working, Joan and Eileen emphasize the importance of waiting time: “Bringing back bush involves two quite different kinds of time. The first is 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” (p 17, Bringing Back the Bush: the Bradley Method of Bush Regeneration by Joan and Eileen Bradley). While there are some weeds, notably Russian olive and tamarisk, that are too large to remove without equipment and crews and some ground disturbance, there are ways to minimize disturbance and capitalize on the natural regeneration of native plants. For RRR the concept of working and waiting time is a critical part of effective project planning.
The Bradley Method relies on the landscape’s ability to regenerate native vegetation on a damaged site when that vegetation is given the space, and time, to regrow. The idea is to shift the balance of the plant community from favoring weeds to favoring native plants. In the heavily impacted high use areas around Moab, this method has limitations. However, there are several strategies for helping it along which make it quite viable. These include: installing fencing and other barriers; land contouring and erosion control measures including wattling and facines; re-establishing native plants by transplanting plants in islands where large areas have been disturbed; using pole plantings and longstem plantings in areas that flood; planting seedlings and watering them deeply, and providing some water to assist in establishment; and seeding.
There are times when active intervention is necessary and advisable at a site. RRR chooses from four general work strategies. Each dictates certain acceptable approaches to soil and vegetation disturbance, plant choices, invasive exotics, and many other elements. These strategies are: Restoration, Natural (or Passive) Regeneration, Revegetation, and Wildland Landscaping. The Bradley Method is focused on exotic species control, but the same principles can be applied to any disturbance that alters the native plant community. Further, in most cases disturbance creates an opening for weeds to establish, and so exotic weed control is a significant part of our work.
While restoration is sometimes used as an umbrella term encompassing all four work options, in our opinion it is rarely feasible, though it is a good goal, as it implies a complete restoration of the habitat and ecological functions.
Restoration is only possible in areas where the activity that damaged the land is no longer occurring, and the ecosystem can regain function, possibly with a little help. Restoration restores natural patterns, abundance, and distribution of vegetation on a site with the intention of helping rebuild a system that functions without repeated resource inputs. Restoration is never simply putting plants into the ground. Plant materials used in these projects maintain the genetic trace of local natural selections, which means all plants are taken from or propagated from adjacent geographic areas and similar landscape types. Invasive exotic weeds are removed to the best extent possible. Even in the remote areas of the Southwest, restoration is often impossible due to damming, irrigation withdrawals or other land uses that cannot be changed.
This site shows tamarisk clearing in the Matheson wetlands in 2005. While the area of clearing is large, it is small in relation to the overall area of Tamarisk and native plants have been left to help repopulate the area. Using a timber ax to masticate the biomass leaves the roots in place and covers the area with mulch from the chipping, helping hold down weeds.
The trees were treated with herbicide at the time they were mowed. Unfortunately, a fire a few years later burned over 200 acres of Tamarisk, including this area.
Natural (or passive) Regeneration, like restoration, is appropriate in highly damaged or altered areas where the activity that caused the alteration is now absent. Natural regeneration works to favor native plants and is the least invasive method of restoring native plant communities. Often it relies on fencing or other land use containment activities, invasive plant removal, or minor ground manipulations. No other action is taken. The basic principles of natural regeneration (with some exceptions and variations) are:
- Prevent new disturbance & make minimal disturbance in any work area
- Work from areas of healthy native plant communities to more damaged or weed infested areas
- Do not overclear – let the rate of native plant regeneration dictate the rate of weed removal.
Revegetation is appropriate in areas where human activities dominate the landscape and the land must accommodate the disturbance. This may be in developments where the lots are large, in perimeters of cities and towns, or in high use front-country and back-country situations. Revegetation projects are designed to replace plant cover and repair damage caused by human activities by mimicking patterns, abundance, and distribution of plant species but it is understood that some level of long term maintenance or management will be required. The goal of revegetation is to recreate plant communities that cannot be easily distinguished from the healthy habitat surrounding them. Revegetation activities may include: weeding, direct seeding, vegetative reproduction, planting seedlings, and/or transplanting mature specimens as well as the stabilization of slopes and soils while addressing invasive exotic species.
Wildland landscaping strategies center around mimicking natural patterns in the landscape and are most appropriate in urban and semi urban areas such as “front-country” campgrounds (even those located far from cities and towns) or other continuously impacted areas. Invasive exotic plant species are controlled, and native plants installed, but some plants in the project may be more regionally native if they help meet the site need. A wildland landscaped area may use an irrigation system to establish the vegetation.
For all of these work strategies, it is important to understand the needs of native plants, habitat requirements and the social impacts on a project site. A detailed knowledge of ecological interactions and an understanding of the site history in particular, are vital to designing an appropriate restoration, natural regeneration, revegetation, or wildland landscaping project. In some situations, the best that can be accomplished is a wildland landscape that to the untrained eye looks like a functioning system, but does require repeated work inputs.
Tamarisk removal in 2007/08 with a Timber Ax head on a RC-100 high track skid loader in the north end of the Matheson wetlands cutting narrow areas and some larger openings to help encourage native plant growth. Unfortunately this area burned soon after this work was completed.