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A New Approach to River Restoration

Rivers around the globe are in trouble, largely because of human activities. I’m thankful that one of my favorite places, the north fork of the Eel river in northern California (see image below), which is not far from my home office, is designated as a federal “wild and scenic river.” That means no dams or other diversions and also that the Eel benefits from a comprehensive management plan. Most rivers aren’t so lucky, which is why river restoration is at the top of the agenda for river managers, according to Bart Fokkens of European Centre of River Restoration, which hosts an international conference in Venice this June. Next month, the SER series tackles river restoration head-on. River Futures: An Integrative Scientific Approach to River Repair, edited by Gary Brierley and Kirstie Fryirs, is not only a seminal contribution to river rehabilitation, but also an illustration of new approaches within the rapidly growing field of restoration. Many restoration projects include an intriguing element of discovery, with practitioners following clues from tree rings, packrat middens, and historical soil surveys to figure out what happened to a particular landscape in an effort to help it come back to life. The Historical Ecology Handbook, edited by Dave Egan and Evelyn Howell, offers a fascinating compilation of these techniques. In other situations, though, it is simply not possible or even advisable to replicate a historical condition. In River Futures, Brierley and Fryirs emphasize the importance of having a future focus for river repair; instead of examining the past, they recommend a cross-disciplinary process to envision future goals that will link what is biophysically achievable with what is socially acceptable. For a sneak preview of River Futures and a sample of The Historical Ecology Handbook, along with thirteen other restoration books, we invite you to download the free SER Restoration Reader—and share it with your friends.