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Restoration in mind: placing ecological restoration in a cultural context.


A dry stream, a disappearing forest, and a vision of what used to be: this is how many restoration projects begin. Wanting to restore the landscape that once existed in a place, people research, plan, organize, and plant. They revitalize the ecosystem: streams flow again and plants grow abundantly. But can they restore what once existed in that place? What do we mean when we talk about watershed restoration?

Historically, restoration literature has focused on the ecology and the ethics of restoration. However, we cannot be successful at restoration without considering human ecology: the influence of the most dominant animal in urban ecosystems. In 2001, I spoke to restoration practitioners in British Columbia and the Philippines as part of my Master's research. Some were local watershed residents. Others were government officials or the staff of non-profit organizations. The goal was to learn about restoration from practitioners. The study focused on watershed areas that contain communities where the local forest and water systems have been intensively used and impacted by human use and settlement. I was interested in the intersection between social organizing and ecology. How do people develop goals for restoration and organize to achieve them?

I found two very different visions of watershed restoration. On the southwest coast of British Columbia is a heavily-populated area that drains into the Georgia Strait. This area--called the Georgia Basin--includes urban areas such as Vancouver. In the populated, urban areas of the basin, restoration often begins with a desire to help fish populations, such as salmon. Ecologically, the focus is on restoring near-stream habitats with native plants. Socially, watershed groups organize to teach residents that they impact a watershed.

Restoration of the watersheds in the Philippines differs. Here, restoration focuses on replanting trees to conserve soil and water. The residents are farmers and loggers who depend on watershed lands to make a living. As is the norm for upland farmers in the Philippines, these people generally do not own the land they farm. Government and non-profit organizations work to develop local peoples' organizations, to find ways that local people can make a living and cause minimal degradation of the watershed.

If restoration is a purely ecological act, why are these visions of restoration so different? As other authors are beginning to suggest, culture is the mediating factor that structures interactions between those who organize to restore a place and the place itself (Geist and Galatowitsch 1999, Pahl-Wostl 2006, Seki 2001, Walters 1999, Wohl 2005). How does culture fit into the restoration process? More specifically, what do restoration practitioners mean when they look at a watershed and say, "We need to organize to restore this watershed?"

What is restoration?

In the past, the term "restoration" usually meant a re-creation of an original, indigenous ecosystem, a state that existed prior to human disturbance. However, this definition rests on several assumptions. The first is that ecosystems have an ideal state that practitioners can understand and recreate. The second is the assumption that people are not a natural part of the ecosystem, since their activities have disturbed the ecosystem and removed it from its proper state (Parker et al. 1997).

These assumptions are not entirely correct. Ecosystems are not static and can have multiple states of equilibrium. Today, restoration is often defined as the process of re-establishing physical, chemical, and biological links in an ecosystem, which helps species, populations, and processes recover their natural range of variation (Bradshaw 1997, Kauffman et al. 1997). Humans are also part of ecosystems, and an essential element of restoration is re-establishing the links between humans and their local environment.

Restoration is a cultural act

Restoration literature increasingly recognizes that people inevitably play a role in ecosystems and that restoration needs to take culture into account. At a meeting of the Indigenous Peoples Restoration Network in 1995, members called for a vision of ecological restoration that places it as "inseparable from cultural and spiritual restoration" (SER 1995). Ideally, restoration brings people and ecosystems into an ongoing, constructive relationship. Forging a new, cooperative relationship with nature requires a fundamental shift in our thinking. It requires the recognition that people are "a part of ecosystems, not apart from them" (Cairns 1995: 5). This new relationship requires a change in behaviour toward natural systems. This change involves a reciprocal, sustainable relationship between people and their places. Higgs (1997) calls this change "regeneration" instead of "restoration".

As we begin the restoration process, whether we are working with a group or coordinating the process ourselves, it is important to ask community members:

* What place are we trying to restore?

* Where does it begin and end?

* What parts, processes, or species are most important to us?

The answers to these questions influence where restoration begins and when we consider it to be "complete." Put differently: is a watershed restored when its most important cultural components are restored?

Research methods

Much of the research and debate about ecological restoration focuses on its ecological aspects or ethical quandaries. My goal was to learn from practitioners. What were their ecological goals and techniques? What were their social and ecological visions for the watershed, and how did they work to achieve them?

I conducted research with watershed restoration groups in Canada and the Philippines. In Canada, my research comprised a series of 23 qualitative, semi-structured interviews with members of restoration groups in the urban watersheds of the Georgia Basin, a heavily-populated area in southern British Columbia. Many interviews were accompanied by a visit to the restoration site.

My research in the Philippines focused on upland watersheds. As in the Georgia Basin, upland watersheds can be a source of water for lowland communities. Despite the fact that they are public land, they are often heavily populated by indigenous and migrant farmers, loggers, and urban settlers. My research focused on restoration in upland watersheds adjacent to Cebu City, Bacolod City, and Baguio City. I conducted 41 interviews with representatives of community organizations, non-profit organizations, and government. Interviews were accompanied by a visit to the restoration site.

Interviews focused on the group's vision and goals for restoration, on the social and ecological techniques used to achieve these goals, and on the group's perceived challenges and successes. Themes were generated from the interview process and site visits, and interviews were coded and analyzed for emerging themes.

Study Sites

Georgia Basin, Canada

The term "Georgia Basin" describes the land area from which water flows into the Georgia Straight and Puget Sound (Figure 1). The basin contains a variety of ecosystems, including coastal temperate rainforest. The basin also contains significant rivers. The Fraser River, which drains a quarter of the province, flows into the eastern side of the Georgia Straight. The basin's ecosystems have been impacted by intense urban settlement and resource extraction. In the last twenty-five years, the population in the basin has more than doubled. The population of the basin is nearing eight million, and by the year 2020, the population is expected to reach 4 million on the Canadian side and 5 million on the American side of the basin (Georgia Basin Ecosystem Initiative 2005). In the Georgia Basin part of the study, the watersheds under study ranged from 10 to 55 square kilometres in size. Within each watershed, the range of restoration activities varied from streamside and in-stream restoration projects to watershed-wide education programs.

Baguio City, Cebu City, and Bacolod City, Philippines

Around these three urban centres in the Philippines, the watersheds under study ranged from 40 to 200 square kilometres in size (Figure 2). Within the larger watersheds, the study focused on the restoration activities undertaken by villages within the watersheds. The study watersheds were chosen because they were areas with a diversity of watershed restoration projects, both those organized by government and non-profit organizations.

Baguio City is found within the Cordillera, a mountainous region in the central part of the island of Luzon. It contains a diverse ecology of mossy oak, pine and dipterocarps. Culturally, it is often considered to be a separate region distinguished by an indigenous population that shares a common cultural tradition, but there are major differences in culture between communities. Here, the convergence of ancestral land claims and resource development can be a volatile mix (Cruz 1998).

With less than one percent forest cover, Cebu is one of the most environmentally degraded provinces in the Philippines. Its forests were first heavily cut by Spanish conquerors, and the situation in Cebu's watersheds has continued to deteriorate since then as a result of commercial timber harvesting and agricultural incursions into the uplands. The growing urban area of Cebu City near the coast has a pressing need for water. Groundwater sources have been contaminated by salt water and depleted by deforestation. To meet Cebu City's water needs, the Mananga watershed has been designated as a primary water source. However, the population in the watershed is growing more rapidly than that of the city itself (Masilungan 1997).

The island of Negros is the sugar cane capital of the Philippines. Here, sugar farmers own large tracts of land and small communities live around the edges of the sugar plantations. Much of the best forest on Negros was commercially logged and then settled for farming between the 1930s and 1980s. In the 1980s, a drop in the international price for sugar forced additional plantation workers to the uplands to log and farm for a living. Natural forest cover on the island has decreased to about 3.5 percent. The remaining forest cover is found in three protected areas, two of which are adjacent to the capital, Bacolod City (Destajo 2001, Walters et al. 1994).



Reframing restoration: Cultural contributions

In their Reciprocal Ecosystem Restoration Model (Figure 3), Geist and Galatowitsch (1999) characterize restoration as a mutually beneficial relationship between humans and ecosystems. Each partner contributes, and each fulfils the other's needs. Every relationship has mediating factors: things that influence the negotiation between the partners. In ecological restoration, sense of place, tenure, livelihood, and traditions of organizing all mediate the interaction between people and nature. Understanding these cultural factors helps us understand the meaning of restoration to a community. The way in which these filters act varies from country to country, sometimes from watershed to watershed.


Sense of place: The imagined watershed

A watershed is a land area defined by the flow of water. All of the water from this area drains in the same direction, into a lake, a river, or an ocean. The matrix of human feelings about a watershed, or a specific area within a watershed, rests in part on a person's sense of place, a "collection of meanings, beliefs, symbols, values and feelings that individuals or groups associate with a particular locality" (Williams and Stewart 1998: 19). Restoration projects begin "because of societal or individual judgement of need" (Cairns 1995: 9). When watershed managers embark on a restoration project, they must understand and prioritize the different geographic and historical meanings of a place. Combined with their physical and psychological needs, a person's sense of place helps shape that person's priorities for restoration, thereby shaping the design of a restoration project (Pahl-Wostl 2006, Wohl 2005).

The Georgia Basin: Cultural touchstones

In the Georgia Basin of British Columbia, salmon play a key role in the imagined watershed. Recently, Garibaldi and Turner (2004) put forward the concept of cultural keystone species: animals or plants that are essential to community integrity and stability and form the basis of cultural traditions, such as diet, materials, and medicine. These species often play a large role in ceremony and narrative, even if they play a minor ecological role (Garibaldi and Turner 2004). During interviews in the Georgia Basin, respondents' responses echoed the importance of salmon. Unlike the fish that live and hide in creeks all year round, the returning, spawning salmon are a visible reminder of the renewal of life. One respondent described running up the hill with a pail of resident cutthroat to show the property owners that there were indeed fish in the creek (MacDuffee 2001). While they may no longer play a key role in the stability of many Georgia Basin cultures, for many, the importance of the salmon as a symbol of water and renewal still resonates. If the salmon return, that is success.

Although the salmon is a cultural keystone in the Georgia Basin, it is not the only place meaning that shapes watershed restoration. Other respondents spoke of a holistic understanding of the watershed as a system that must be repaired. This sense of "space and terrain," of watershed interconnections across a place, is something that respondents struggled to define. Some spoke about the spiritual side of restoration, a connection with the land and water that resulted in the "stream telling [them] what it needs" (Project Head of the Horticulture Centre 2001). This sense of the watershed as a whole system was particularly important to those who promoted ecosystem and process-based restoration.

In contrast to those who feel connected to key watershed species and places, there are those who are detached from their watershed and who lack a sense of watershed as place. In the Georgia Basin, watershed groups often take on the role of place-builder, developing a public sense of place. In an urban setting, creeks are often in underground culverts, and the watershed is invisible. People don't think about their home as a watershed, or if they look at a degraded environment, see it as dirty. One respondent said that local people perceived the local creek as "a ditch, and it's been a ditch for a hundred years" (MacDuffee 2001). People may also perceive restoration itself as unpleasant and dirty. Faced with those who do not know, understand, or care about a watershed, restoration groups work to develop a sense of place amongst the public at large.

Why engage people? Why develop a "culture of wanting to care?" (Clifford 2005). In an urban area, residents are the de facto watershed managers. Unfortunately, urban residents wash their cars near storm drains and garden to the stream's edge. Restoration groups work to engage residents and "draw them in as part of the solution when we know that they are part of the problem." Many respondents spoke of the need to bring environmental advocacy to a backyard level, because those who live with creeks in their backyards will care for them every day.

Many respondents said that a social process had to precede ecological restoration, for the community to articulate goals and come to some sort of a consensus. One respondent described how the first restoration coordinator had worked to develop community engagement with a watershed: "He brought everyone together to look after the creek, whereas in the past people said, well, that's not our creek" (Matheson 2001). Restoration is also a process of engaging community knowledge, the history that comes out when people are asked about their experiences with a place.

The Philippines: A functional sense of place

In the Philippines, the imagined watershed differs dramatically. Here, functionality is the key: watershed restoration focuses on human necessities. The imagined watershed has healthy soil and ample water for human needs. Most restoration projects focus on planting trees to restore soil and water. Planting trees is a priority here, since a third of the Philippine uplands are relatively unproductive and low diversity Imperata grasslands (Quimio 1996). Green watersheds are the colour of success (Palijon 2001).

In the Philippines, restoration is often driven by the government's desire to restore an upland watershed. Government designates "critical watersheds" based on the urban need for drinking water, irrigation, or hydroelectricity. In the areas declared as water supply areas by government, reforestation efforts focus on controlling erosion so that hydro dams do not become silted and conserving water for drinking water supply. For example, in Cebu City much of the water is drawn from a groundwater supply that suffers from salt water intrusion, and finding surface water supply is a critical issue (Espanol 2001).

Upland dwellers live in the critical watersheds. They may be transplanted lowland migrants, farming or logging to make a living, or indigenous people. The imagined watershed of the upland dweller is one with healthy soil and water, a green watershed that supports human livelihood. Like farmers around the world, these upland farmers have seen how soil and water conservation can help restore productivity to the land. One respondent said, "Before, it was difficult to farm rice in the dry season. Now, there is more water" (Moneva 2001). For former loggers, harvesting and production of non-timber forest products provide some income. To those who live in the uplands, restoration is often a transplanted vision, one which government tries to translate into benefits for upland residents so that they will take ownership of a project.

Ecologically, replanting is dominated by the promotion of exotic species. Exotics such as mahogany have a reputation as instant green, creating a forest that shades invasive grasses. Academics, government, and locals alike say that exotics act as nurse trees that provide shade, soil, and increased water: habitat for indigenous trees (Palijon 2001). Visions are diverse, however. Some expressed concern that exotics discourage other plants from growing, dry the land, or import pests. In spite of its popularity as a restoration technique, replanting with exotic species offers mixed results. It does not always restore water flow. One respondent described how the spring ran dry. He looked inside the water collection equipment to find that roots had covered the inside of the box and plugged the opening (Inting 2001). Local ecologists continue to work on techniques for reforestation with indigenous species (Quimio 1996). However, at the moment, exotic species play the most prominent role in watershed restoration.

Cultural beliefs impact our management of watersheds. Human understandings of a river system shape restoration (Wohl 2005). One of these understandings is sense of place. Watershed restoration in the Georgia Basin and the Philippines rests on two very different senses of place. In the Georgia Basin, the salmon is a cultural keystone species, one that inspires restoration. Watershed groups here work with private land owners to build a sense of place in urban populations who often feel detached from their watersheds. In the Philippines, green is success, and people plant exotic and indigenous trees to restore soil and water for human consumption.

Tenure: The power to manage and restore

Tenure is another cultural filter that shapes the ways in which we interact with our watersheds on a daily basis. Do we live as squatters in a public space, with an uncertain future, apprehensive about participating in a restoration program that might displace us? Do we own and manage private land? Tenure is a spatial power structure: it outlines residents' relationship to the space and tells a story about their historical relationship with a place. Historical and current interactions with the land affect the complexity of a restoration process and shape the way in which it unfolds.

The Georgia Basin: Private power

When residents have the power to use, manage, and restore a place, restoration needs to engage residents as restorative watershed managers. In the Georgia Basin, private property is the norm in urban watersheds. While much of British Columbia's forest land is officially public space, most watersheds in the Georgia Basin are a patchwork of residential and commercial property. Municipalities hold some sway over landowners' actions, but enforcement officers cannot be everywhere. Through their everyday actions, landowners and residents have a great deal of influence on the fate of their watersheds. This poses a challenge to watershed restoration groups, who turn their attention to public education and outreach.

As one respondent said, "no one can make decisions except the ones who control the land" (Project Lead of the Horticulture Centre 2001). In the Georgia Basin, those who control the land are an amalgam of diverse individuals. Some value the watershed. Others do not realize that they impact the watershed at all. Each impacts the watershed through daily actions. Pesticides flow down storm drains, or people pave driveways, adding to impermeable surfaces in the watershed. To restore these watersheds, restoration groups have to bring together the actions of many different people in a concerted effort. One group leader said that there is so much private land that restoration begins with an assessment of landowners, a look at the important players (MacDuffee 2001). Often, groups begin by restoring in and around the stream itself, because in some municipalities, the buffer area immediately adjacent to the stream is public land. Then, groups move to public education and engagement campaigns to tackle watershed-scale ecological concerns like impervious surfaces.

Private tenure systems make restoration at once a very private and a very public act. Many small, private activities of landowners result in many small, cumulative impacts on the watershed. The watershed and ultimately the public as a whole are affected by these impacts. In the Georgia Basin, restoration work often involves public campaigns to change the actions that citizens take on their private lands.

The Philippines: Reframed spaces

The situation in the Philippine uplands is different. The heavily-populated watersheds of the Georgia Basin are generally privately owned. Watersheds in the Philippine uplands are also heavily used by people, but here the land is public and there is little tenure security. Currently, areas with slopes of more than eighteen percent are considered uplands, unsafe for cultivation (Sullano and Rodruiguez 1995). More than half of the land base of the Philippines is uplands, and this land is in principle managed by the state. Despite the fact that they do not legally own the land and may not have formal tenure, people depend on those upland watersheds for livelihood, food and shelter, and often claim it is their own. There are programs like community-based forest management that work to provide more formalized tenure security, but these processes are still controlled by the state.

Why are the Philippine uplands public land? The history of land tenure in the Philippines is a history of reframing spaces. Colonial powers turned much of the communally-owned uplands into public lands, including forest reserves, lands gazetted for agriculture development and national parks (Dressler 2005). The government then participated in "coercive conservation" (Dressler 2005: 21) to remove settlers from public lands, or at least limit their activities. These laws do not mesh with indigenous land tenure. For example, indigenous people traditionally managed forests via clan access to forest land, but usufruct right is not a criterion for a land claim (de Raedt 1991). The uplands are also the focus of major migration. One third of the Philippines' population lives in the uplands (Cruz and Crus 1990). Logging and farming are important economic activities, but in the face of population pressure, fields may not remain fallow long enough to restore nutrients (de Raedt 1991). The uplands need to be restored, and the people need the uplands. This poses a dilemma.

Granting tenure seems to be the antithesis of watershed restoration. It is not. In fact, tenure security is vital to restoration. Since the 1980s, the government has made efforts to provide tenure security through the Integrated Social Forestry Program and, more recently, the Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) program (Austria and Wagan 1997). The experience of one group in the Mananga watershed shows how granting tenure can advance restoration. In the 1980s, Mananga was not a protected area. Upland residents planted trees for soil and water conservation, but after the government declared that Mananga was a protected area, people became less interested in watershed stewardship (Moneva 2001). They were afraid that once the land has been reforested, they would not be able to use it (Inting 2001). They became apprehensive of government intentions, and, therefore, wary of participating in restoration. With tenure security, these upland residents were interested in watershed restoration. Without tenure security, restoration became a much lower priority.

At the beginning of a restoration project, it is very important to examine who holds legal tenure, because those who hold tenure hold some power over the watershed. Tenure enables residents by allowing them to manage a watershed. This can be both a challenge and an opportunity. Sometimes, private land owners are interested in restoring a watershed. Other times, those with tenure are reluctant to participate in watershed restoration or have very different visions of what the watershed should become. This is the case in the Georgia Basin of British Columbia. When a watershed is composed of private property, restoration becomes a matter of working with private land owners to develop public engagement in watershed restoration. However, when watershed residents do not hold legal tenure, apprehension reigns. People do not have the power to manage the space that they call home. In this case, granting a right to manage the land helps community members engage in the restoration process. They are allowed to manage the land that they live on.

The tenure system is an important cultural influence that helps design a restoration project, but it is not the only factor that shapes peoples' interest in the restoration process. Community members also become involved in restoration due to their individual histories. In their study of the responses of people in eight different villages to external interventions, Walters et al. (1999) discovered that while security of tenure had an effect on peoples' participation in restoration, local knowledge, community cohesion, and in particular, the history of each individual and family also had a strong impact on villagers' behaviour. In addition to tenure and family history, livelihood security also impacts participation in restoration.

Livelihood: the need to make a living from the land

When people make a living from their watershed, there is a whole other level of dependency and attachment to the space. However, there is an equally pressing need to restore, to accommodate both human and ecological needs.

The Georgia Basin: Indirect use

In the urban Georgia Basin, watersheds are places to live, work, and play. They provide residents with important ecological services such as clean water, healthy soil, shade and oxygen from trees. In watersheds where residents rely on healthy, local soil to grow food and clean water to drink, they suffer when the soil is poor and the water is dirty. However, in the Georgia Basin, residents import almost all of their food and water from beyond their watershed. Few people get their water directly from a creek and few are subsistence farmers. They do not depend on their local place to provide their subsistence needs. Therefore, people do not always recognize that watersheds provide essential ecological services, since the immediate link between healthy people and a healthy watershed becomes less visible. Watershed restoration sits in an awkward space. Where humans have the luxury of meeting their subsistence needs from beyond the watershed boundaries, restoration faces the possibility of becoming a feel-good environmental project, something that we do for other species. This perception of watershed restoration promotes the divide between humans and the rest of nature. Healthy soil, clean water and abundant vegetation are important for wildlife, but residents may not realize that they are also important for people.

The Philippines: Direct dependency

In the Philippine uplands, people make a living from watersheds, primarily through farming and logging. They depend on the watershed to survive. Where people live on and rely on the land, human activities and restoration goals need to complement each other. However, there is resistance to tempering restoration goals in order to achieve social goals (Walters 1997). At a workshop on community forest management, Patrick Durst, Regional Forestry Officer of FAO Asia, summed up the dilemma: "everyone seems eager to give the communities the meagre benefits that can be scraped from wastelands, denuded areas, and degraded forestlands. But there remains incredible resistance to giving communities a sizable share of the country's valuable forest resources" (UNAC 1997). The solution is to restore to the greatest degree possible, while working with people to ensure that restoration works for them, meets their needs, and provides security.

There are a number of ways to bring together livelihood and restoration. Initially, government paid people to plant and protect trees. Unfortunately, people came to depend on government and non-profits for incentive payments (Granert 2001). Some organizations still pay people to plant as a stop-gap measure. Other times, part of a watershed may be designated as a non-use area, and people may be paid to protect it while they live and farm in other areas of the watershed (Castor 2001).

There are other options beyond pay-to-protect programs. One is the idea that it is possible to develop a relationship in which some degree of ecological restoration can occur while people use the land for their livelihood. Agroforestry is one example of this concept. People plant useful tree species that may or may not approximate the native vegetation in an area. For example, one community group in Cebu planted rattan, mango, and pangantoon, an indigenous tree which is used to make beads and bracelets.

Finally, livelihood programs also incorporate micro-finance. Upland residents often find it difficult to learn about lowland markets and transport their products to market. The concept behind micro-financing is that it allows for increased access to livelihood opportunities, decreasing poverty and adding value to goods produced from the forest. Micro-financing allows community members to work together to develop a fund for start-up grants, transportation, and other costs associated with growing, processing, transporting and marketing goods, giving them a greater ability to succeed in the lowland marketplace (de Raedt 1991). In theory, value-added processing and increased market opportunities mean that people need harvest less forest and receive more income. In practice, this is not always the case. In a recent World Bank report on agriculture, poverty, and environmental concerns in tropical forests, Chomitz (2007) argues that the decision to deforest is not entirely driven by economic circumstances. It is shaped by a mixture of policy and local economic opportunities. These factors include an individual farmer's constraints and abilities, the characteristics of the forest plot, the farmer's tenure over the forested area, and the wider social, economic, and political context (Chomitz 2007). There are a number of ways to reduce deforestation, but in each, the motivations and resulting actions of upland community members are numerous and complex.

Community-based organizing: the ways we work together

Organizing traditions are another cultural filter. While they do not form part of our direct relationship with the land, they influence how we engage ourselves and others in that relationship. They are the power structure behind restoration, and therefore they have a profound influence on restoration.

What is community organizing?

Organizing is how we move forward with our vision of a restored place. If our relationship with place defines the way we understand our watershed, traditions of organizing shape how we restore it.

An ecological approach towards restoration needs to be tempered by an understanding of political boundaries and existing social groups, since social concerns can support or stymie restoration efforts (Walters 1997, Sullano and Rodruiguez 1995). A community contains rich and poor, landed and landless. A uniform approach to community organizing can "spell disaster in promoting social justice and equitable access to forest resources" (Austria and Wagan, 1997: 2).

Who organizes?

Community organizing needs to build from community needs, since "what people do for themselves tends to be cheaper, more aligned with their needs, and more satisfying than what others do for them" (Clements 1985: 136, Crisologo-Mendoza 1991). Those who control the vision, own the land, and organize and educate the people hold much power. The power dynamics behind community organizing for restoration vary depending on the country, the community, even the watershed.

The Georgia Basin: Community group as advocate and educator

In the Georgia Basin, restoration often begins when a group of community members gather with a common desire to restore a watershed. A community leader acts as a champion to initiate restoration and attract others. The group presses government to help and partner with them, and they work to educate and involve the public at large. As it works towards its ecological goals, the restoration group tries to engage those who own and manage the watershed, and it also struggles to develop and maintain itself over the long term.

Finding allies

When restoration takes place in a populated area, people need to be involved in the restoration project. In fact, one respondent said, "I don't know of any restoration projects where the next step after the vision isn't a political one" (Project Head of the Horticulture Centre 2001). Government can play many roles in a restoration project: supporting existing projects, starting projects, participating in projects as a partner, and derailing restoration projects (Chess et al. 2000). Engaging government as an active partner requires work. Groups work to develop a solid reputation through experience and an ability to communicate effectively and constructively with government.

Despite their desire for positive communication, group members are often frustrated by the lack of government involvement. Many said that we lack strong laws to enforce stream regulations. Others were frustrated by the focus on management for species, and they pushed for a more diverse, watershed-based approach. Nearly all groups felt that government had insufficient staff to support watershed stewards and address environmental problems: "For some reason they want us to be out there finding problems, and we keep finding them but they don't have the manpower to take care of them." One said that she felt that the government was pushing her into an advocacy role, and she said that "we're advocating to you [government]. If you want to make a change, why don't you just make the change?" Engaging the power of government can be both empowering and frustrating.

Drawing in watershed residents

In a watershed composed of blocks of private property, residents hold the balance of power. This is positive, in that restoration is not a top-down agenda. Community groups must work to understand residents' needs and involve those residents. This is difficult, too, because watershed residents do not have a uniform agenda but a multitude of personal interests. People dump waste in the creeks or overuse the watershed through recreation. These diverse people with different interests are the de facto day-to-day watershed managers.

Groups focus on engaging residents and strive to develop a restorative sense of place through festivals and public restoration activities such as tree planting. They build on existing community networks to build awareness about and action for the watershed. They reach out to all communities by creating many different opportunities to help, understanding and accommodating peoples' needs. Respondents emphasized the need to draw people in gradually by setting an example and to build on their attachment with many small contributions. The experiences of respondents echo the findings of those who have examined successful strategies for outreach and education. A simple, specific, and personal message, modeled by friends and family, makes restoration a relevant and legitimate social cause (McKenzie-Mohr and Smith 1999).

The Philippines: Getting organized

In the Philippines, the process of community organizing is very different. Here, government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are behind much of the community organizing to restore watersheds. They help organize restoration groups or work with existing community organizations, called peoples' organizations (POs). Often, organizing occurs when an outside organization enters a community with a desire to restore its forests.

Watershed restoration is also a formal program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR). To a large degree, government controls the objectives of these watershed restoration projects, measuring its success by the number of trees planted and the social structures that have been organized (Ballolla 2001). Since the DENR does not have enough staff with organizing expertise, NGOs are hired to do the job. Their community organizers enter upland watershed communities to work with the people, organizing them to embark on livelihood and restoration projects. Playing on the history of communist organizing in upland communities, one government official joked that it is through this community organizing process that the DENR has "infiltrated" the uplands.

Community-based forest management recognizes that communities are capable of organizing on their own and that watershed residents have a right to information and prior consent. However, watershed residents perceive that the CBFM program is not true communal management, since the government seeks to regulate the forest uses of marginalized people (Seki 2001). During a community forum on the CBFM program, Delbert Rice stated that a good community organizer is powerless and only becomes effective through working with communities (UNAC 1997). No government personnel are powerless.

Non-profit organizations who work independently of government also organize for restoration. Overall, NGOs characterize themselves as involved in communities at a finer level for a longer time. They borrow organizing techniques from those who live in the watershed. In the Cordillera, the Busol Watershed Eco-Walk uses the concept of the muyong, an indigenous practice of retaining upland trees to ensure water flow for rice terraces below. Children from Baguio City plant trees and return to care for them, thereby ensuring that water will flow for the city.

In the Philippines, larger, external organizations often have a hand in organizing communities for restoration. They own the land and shape the restoration vision. In the Georgia Basin, the community group also struggles to gain independent power, attempting to gain the support of government and of watershed residents. The power balance of restoration partners is very different, and this plays out in the vision and process of restoration.


This study traces the impact of several cultural variables on the development of restoration projects in two countries. The cultural filters outlined here are a small sampling of the complex cultural interactions that shape restoration projects. The experiences of those in other countries and other watersheds can add to the model. Other authors have explored additional cultural variables, both at the level of national law (tenure systems) and at the level of the family. For example, in the Philippines, Walters et al.'s (1999) study of the responses of people in eight different villages to external interventions discovered that individual and family history also had a strong impact on villagers' management behaviors. While the complexity of ecological systems presents a challenge to restoration ecologists, the complexity of human culture presents an equal challenge, one that we are only beginning to explore.

Restoration is a social and cultural act, an interaction between humans and nature. Any actions we take are mediated by culture. No matter how straightforward it appears to be, a restoration project is constructed by social norms. Sense of place, land tenure, sources of livelihood and traditions of community organizing all mediate the relationship between people and place. Culture makes restoration complex, as nature and human nature combine to make restoration a challenging discipline. Just as ecology differs from place to place, culture also differs, making restoration a process that is very individual to a community and its watershed. As we work to restore the world's watersheds, we must deepen our understanding of the social complexities of those watersheds and accept that culture often designs restoration for us.


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Tricia Edgar is a graduate of the Resource and Environmental Management program at Simon Fraser University. Currently, she connects people with their local places through her work in ecological education and as the principal of Turning Leaf Consulting ( She can be reached at
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