RESTORING LANDS: COORDINATING SCIENCE; POLITICS, AND ACTION, edited by Herman Karl, Lynn Scarlett, Juan Carlos Vargas-Moreno, and Michael Flaxman

Reviewed by Danya Rumore, MIT

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Restoring Lands: Coordinating Science, Politics, and Action, edited by Herman Karl, Lynn Scarlett, Juan Carlos Vargas-Moreno, and Michael Flaxman, Springer, 2012

Many of the challenges we face in restoring lands and achieving sustainability are “wicked problems”: they defy clear definition, do not lend themselves to singular optimal solutions, and change and evolve over time. As ongoing climate change, habitat loss, and numerous other sustainability challenges show, our traditional institutions – with their rigidity and generally top-down approach – are not sufficient to handle and resolve these complex, amorphous issues. In light of this, how can we achieve solutions for restoring lands and protecting natural resources?

Restoring Lands – a large edited volume encompassing 22 chapters and 536 pages – takes on this challenge. The book is neither a theoretical summary, nor a handbook for practitioners. Rather, “It is a narrative of diverse voices that collectively talk about coordinating science, politics, and communities to manage ecosystems in harmony with social and economic systems.” It is diverse in its scope, bringing together case studies ranging from efforts to adapt to climate change in East Boston to the restoration of the Everglades, and covering topics stretching from tools and methods to governance challenges. The common thread running through each of the chapters, according to the authors, “is the belief in the effectiveness of people acting together to achieve durable solutions for restoring lands.”

While the book is not intended to appeal solely to academics, it is largely academic in tone. Yet, many of the chapters are not heavily theoretically informed, nor do they draw on rigorous research findings. In many ways, this is the weakness of Restoring Lands – it is not clear what audience the book is trying to reach; it is academic in tenor, yet not thoroughly academic in nature. As a related concern, the book includes chapters from many of the top movers and shakers in the field of collaborative governance and participatory environmental decision-making. Yet these chapters stand alone, making the book feel somewhat disjointed. The book also relies overly heavily on a couple case studies, like the Everglades, and focuses disproportionately on climate change adaptation. This is not problematic in and of itself, but it does not fully illuminate the wide range of collaborative efforts aimed at restoring and preserving lands throughout the world.

Despite these limitations, the chapters of Restoring Lands document valuable real-world case studies of efforts to support collaborative adaptive management and to facilitate the integration of science, politics, and action. These case studies reveal that coordinating across these separate domains will require focusing as much on relationships as information; fostering facilitative leadership and more dynamic institutions; promoting adaptive systems that can evolve over time; and integrating multiple forms of knowledge into place-based planning and decision-making. The lessons and wisdom of Restoring Lands are important for all of us working in the field of collaborative adaptive management.


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