Ecological restoration, work, and a just transition

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Matthew J. Burke

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Amid debates regarding whether and how to advance large-scale ecological restoration, little consideration has been given to the social organization of the actual work of restoring ecological communities. This paper contributes a perspective on the work of ecological restoration by drawing from experiences in North America to advance a just transition, centering on the critical role of workers and the importance of high-quality employment within communities and societies in economic transition. The objective is to provide a basis for and describe an approach to institutionalizing networks of service for ecological restoration. This is achieved first by recognizing the opportunity for meaningful, geographically specific employment that allows for sustained engagement with practices of restoration of ecosystems, ultimately restorative of social-ecological relations. The paper then draws from historical and contemporary cases and institutional designs to inform the organization of networks of public restoration services. Cases highlight positive outcomes as well as shortcomings of large-scale, public-sector conservation and restoration projects of the past, while assessing the scope of current conservation and restoration efforts and needs across the continent. The outcomes of this research have broad applicability for social practices of restoration in North America and beyond, aiming to inform governance and public policy, job creation and livelihoods, and public awareness and engagement regarding these practices and their organization. By learning from history while grounding efforts in the needs of the present, emerging networks of ecological restoration services can increase support for expanded projects while creating conditions for enduring economies and cultures of restoration.

Resource Type:
Conference Presentation, SER2021

Pre-approved for CECs under SER's CERP program