Here’s a question that we get asked pretty frequently: “Why don’t you just let nature take its course?”
While nature can overcome just about any obstacle placed in front of it, that takes time. So, we use the best science available to move systems towards more sustainable and robust conditions to save species that need those conditions as soon as possible. This can be tricky, because when it comes to aquatic ecosystems, the line between “natural” and “artificial” is blurry. Any surface water that you see is almost always much less “natural” than it seems. Even a scene like this is heavily managed. Following urban growth, developers drained wetlands, built dams, and paved over the ground. These actions increased and exacerbated flooding. In response, a watershed management organization was formed, and a dam was built upstream to control the flow. This story applies to countless streams and rivers across the world, and it has for a very long time.
Historically, in the USA, “managing water resources” has meant ditching, damming, and draining surface water. Over time, a lot of these ditches, dams, and impoundments started to take on the appearance of “natural” streams, waterfalls, and lakes. These systems typically fail to support the full range of ecosystem services that evolved in those locations.
Luckily, as we better understand these systems, there has been a paradigm shift. Instead of confining and diverting streams and rivers, we are seeing riverside communities undertake projects to expand and diversify habitat, improve surface water quality, and support more ecologically appropriate recreational opportunities in their waterways. These projects attempt to restore ecological conditions that, in some cases, have been absent for hundreds of years. This is the sort of work that we support every day.
Returning to the original question: why don’t we just let nature take its course? Emma Maris, in her book Rambunctious Garden, has a possible answer: “We’ve forever altered the Earth, and so now we cannot abandon it to a random fate. It is our duty to manage it." #science #ecology #engineering #civilengineering #environmental #fisheries #environmentalscience ...