Society for Ecological Restoration

Incorporating Local Knowledge into Ecological Restoration Assessments – Case Studies in Louisiana

Oct 6, 2017

Ecological restoration and other activities that interact with environmental systems have typically relied on scientic analysis to predict the impacts of these projects, and have operated on the assumption that good science could reveal and remedy potential problems (Colten and Hemmerling 2014). The scientic literature has extensively covered the development of large-scale environmental monitoring plans (Williams et al. 2009), particularly with respect to detecting change in ecological systems (Field et al. 2007, Gitzen et al. 2012, Wagner et al. 2013) and identifying ecological indicators for monitoring (Fennessy et al. 2004, Hershner et al. 2007, Nicholson and Jennings 2004). Because environmental management is fundamentally a human activity, however, effective predictions of human impacts demand equal attention to the social, political, cultural, and economic systems in which environmental management takes place (Ludwig et al. 1993). Despite the fact that monitoring of social indicators has long been a crucial component of Social Impact Assessments and is required for projects having an environmental impact on human communities (Interorganizational Committee on Principles and Guidelines for Social Impact Assessment 2003, Kusel 1996, Machlis et al. 1997), few large ecosystem-level socioeconomic monitoring plans have been implemented to date (Charnley and Stuart 2006, Hijeuelos and Hemmerling 2015, Jackson et al. 2004, Sommers 2001). It can be challenging to develop monitoring techniques that reect the broad social impacts of ecological restoration, especially when extending monitoring beyond assessment of baseline demographic information (e.g., U.S. Census data).

In order to assess local understanding of environmental and social change resulting from ecological restoration projects, our research group recently piloted several mixedmethod and multi-disciplinary monitoring strategies in coastal Louisiana. This region has historically experienced globally high rates of wetland loss due in part to a combination of sea level rise, subsidence, saltwater intrusion, and reduced sediment inow. Between 2016 and 2017, we developed and implemented research methods framed around recent natural and human-induced changes in the region with the goal of characterizing local community members’ understanding of what ecological restoration has historically achieved, as well as a suite of potential short- and long-term outcomes of emerging ecological restoration projects identied by residents.