Indigenous Habitat Regeneration

Lush Native Plant Patches:

  • Increase organic matter content of the soil
  • Increase availability of nutrients
  • Improve soil’s tilth {soil texture}
  • Reduce weeds by choking out undesirable plants
  • Reduce soil pests
  • Enhance soil’s biological activity
  • Interact with native wildlife in symbiosis and balance
  • Stabilize soil from movement
  • Filter water and air



A method has been developed in Australia for regenerating native bush. It is named The Bradley Method after the two sisters, now deceased, who devised it. Should it be our wish to bring back the native vegetation that once covered a particular piece of Earth, then, they found, no heroic tree planting measures are called for. Rather, this humble technique requires us only to remove all foreign influences while causing the minimum possible disturbance to whatever native vegetation still exists.

Thus, the first step may be to fence off the area we have chosen, to keep cows or goats at bay. It may also be necessary to take steps to prevent fire from invading the land. We must then be able to identify all species of plants that we encounter, both the exotics and those native to the area. We need to recognise them not only in their mature form but also when their seedlings first poke out of the ground. THEN the method is simple: remove the exotics without treading on the natives. Encouraged in this way, the native species begin to come back, growing stronger in each ensuing season.

There is only one other rule: start from the strength. It may be that in the area we wish to heal there are deep scars, erosion gullies perhaps, that break our heart, and it is our wish to immediately tend to these. In order to succeed however, we must resist this temptation and start from the strongest expression of native vegetation in our management area.

If our area is an inner-city park that has been lawn for a century, our beginnings may be from a tiny patch that the mower couldn’t reach and where a few native weeds flourish. If there is a forgotten corner where a few pioneer tree seedlings have emerged, we start from there. Carefully stepping backwards, removing exotics as we go, we invite the bush to follow. It is painstaking work. Each year, the process accelerates as the native intelligence of the place emerges and the life-force quickens.

More and more species emerge as the conditions necessary for their growth are recreated. As one species of pioneer completes its work in, say, repairing the soil with shade and leaf mulch, it becomes fewer and is succeeded by the next. The microclimate slowly changes and, one day, after perhaps seven years of this patient, rewarding service, we may find to our astonishment, a seedling emerging of a climax species that has not been seen here in the city for 100 years. Was the seed dropped by a bird that alighted in the branches of a pioneer now reaching 100 feet above? Is it possible that the seed lay dormant in the ground since it was first cleared, waiting for this moment when conditions were again suitable for it’s return? We will never know.

And when the accellerating advance of the native bush finally reaches that erosion gully, it now has the vigor and the necessary species to be able to recolonise and integrate it and slowly bring it back into harmony.

Human is not the hero, proudly planting thousands of trees, reclaiming the desert, healing the Earth. Rather we are humble in the face of the super-human intelligence of Nature, and INVITE the original Nature of the place to return.

There is something very spiritual about the Bradley Method. Encoded within it is a deep trust in the native intelligence of the Earth – She KNOWS what is meant to grow in this place and she also knows, unerringly, the particular stages of succession that will best take us from whatever kind of degradation exists at present back to climax.

In my travels, I have encountered systems akin to the Bradley method in several different countries. I found one example as I travelled around India in 1987 lecturing on rainforest conservation and deep ecology. In Bhopal I visited one of the most enlightened foresters I have ever met. His name was Chaturdevi and he was professor of the new school of forestry that had been established in that city just a few years before. His school had been granted a large area of ground, a couple of thousand acres as I recall, and the first thing he had done, before the first brick was laid for the school buildings, was to fence the land. It was at that time a desolate thorny desert denuded by goats and recurrent fires set by the goat-herders to encourage succulent new growth. Chaturdevi hired armed guards to keep these at bay. The first task he set his students was to inventory the vegetation that grew there. In the beginning, they discovered stunted remnants of a few tree species which had managed to survive the former regime – just a few sticks here and there who’s leaves had been chewed back as soon as they emerged.

By the time that I saw the land some four years later, more than 80 species had re-emerged as I recall, and in many places the vegetation was pumping, accelerating back towards it’s climax status. The armed guards were still there.

In many other places, from Russia to the United States, I have found to my surprise, understandings akin to the Bradley Method emerging independently and unbeknownst to each other. Perhaps it should come as no surprise. Perhaps this phenomenon is ITSELF a manifestation of the Bradley Method, only working here on the level of the human psyche rather than the biology of a landscape. Surely the human psyche is itself a product of the landscape – we ourselves grow from the soil, are made of soil. In this case, the most appropriate metaphors for understanding psyche are biological ones. Techniques that facilitate the return of native vegetation may also help us understand how wild common sense can return to the denuded mind. The spontaneous emergence of “the Bradley Method” in different places around the world can then be seen as an expression of the return of a trust in Nature after centuries and millenia of human arrogance.

What I first learned of by the name “Bradley Method” then, may be one stage in the succession of the return of native wisdom and humility to the clearcut modern mind, when the exotic influences of anthropocentrism are removed. By anthropocentrism I mean the ubiquitous modern idea that the human is the centre of everything and that order comes into the world only through human control and ingenuity. The rejection of anthropocentrism has sometimes been termed “deep ecology”.

One of the understandings of deep ecology is that the sense shared by most modern humans, of being isolated, alienated and separate from Nature is illusory. In fact, we are Earthlings, we BELONG here. We have evolved on this planet for 4000 million years of organic life and are made of Earth. Our soul too, our psyche, is Earth-born, emerging from the exquisite biology of this planet, continuous with it. The ubiquitous illusion of separation springs from the false ideas of human “otherness” and superiority that thousands of years of Judeo-Christian and other traditions have created within us.

As we root out these pernicious false ideas of our own grandeur and importance, we “fall in love outwards” (Jeffers) and the truth spontaneously emerges of who we REALLY are, “plain members of the biota” (Leopold). As the exotic influence of the dominant paradigm recedes, we realise (with Commoner) that “Nature knows best” and our native intelligence pops spontaneously from the ground of our being.

When we see the Bradley Method as being equally applicable in the reawakening of native human intelligence as in the re-emergence of a biological ecosystem, several corrolaries suggest themselves. Firstly, we don’t need to plant new ideas in each others minds. If we can root out the alien ideas, the ecological insight springs forth spontaneously. We need to know ourselves, to create an inventory of our mind, to learn to recognise the ideas, feelings, habits, blockages which prevent us from experiencing our unity with Nature. Which parts of us are harmonious with our larger system? How can we compassionately root out destructive habits and conditioned ideas without unnecessary disturbance and self-hatred?

Secondly, start with the strength: there’s nothing wrong with preaching to the choir. In fact it is more important to strengthen the experience of deep ecology among those who already love nature and work for the Earth, than to waste our energy trying to convince the CEO of the EXXON erosion gully about the importance of a biocentric ethic. Strengthening ecological empathy and insights within the conservation community will make it ever stronger and more capable of making inroads into corporate culture, The Vatican and other bastions of anthropocentrism.

BRINGING BACK THE BUSH – THE BRADLEY METHOD OF BUSH REGENERATION by Joan Bradley, published by Lansdowne Press, Sydney 1988


For more see: Rim to Rim Restoration


Create Habitat

Food – Water – Shelter – Space

Bringing Nature Home: How Native Plants Sustain Wildlife in Our Gardens Douglas W. Tallamy:

“Natives… should be as densely planted as possible. It’s good if you can’t see the ground because then you have succeeded in providing safe sites for things that need them… Be sure to build complexity and diversity… Creating the vertical structure found in nature’s own designs by using ground cover, shrub, understory, and canopy species is a great start, but remember that animal diversity is a direct result of plant diversity. If you want to support lots of wildlife, you must supply as many different species of native plants as you can… Remember, it is the shrub layer rather than the tree canopy that birds most often use as nesting sites.” 

Aim for structural diversity from canopy to soil, with a diversity of site appropriate species communities where flowering and fruiting are happening at different times.  Layered edges are prime habitat. Learn the needs of different animal, fungal, moss and lichen species. For example:

Cirsium brevistylum – Short-styled Thistle

Refuge for Disappearing Butterflies

July 29, 2013 by wildcatphotography1976

butterfly thistle 2573-2 wc

“This appears to be a Great Spangled Fritillary. Butterflies, like many other species of plants and animals where I live in Oregon, have nearly disappeared. I rarely find a butterfly, even when the flowers are in bloom.  I was out on a day trip and found where the county mower had missed some thistles, so the bees and two butterflies were allowing me to get a couple photos.  As a kid, we had butterflies come flitting by quite often.  But they are rare now, and I believe it is because of the use of pesticides, and things used to kill brush by the logging companies and the railroad. “


Ideas for Nature Stewards

*Carefully position logs parallel to slope to encourage more use by small animals, in addition to helping reduce soil erosion and water runoff by trapping sediments andn nutrients. Logs make great nurseries for a variety of life.  To improve log habitat and functions, dig a trench and bury about 1/4.

*If woody debris has a flat side, position flat side down to provide wildlife cover. Most wildlife prefer woody debris in partial shade.

*Remember to include not only trees and shrubs, but a variety of ground cover – perennials, annual, grasses, ferns – in addition to vines, and encourage moss and lichen.

*Leave branches on dead shrubs and trees for birds to perch and take cover.

*Consider disturbance to wildlife carefully before moving any ground debris, especially logs.

*Defragment and protect large patches of shrubbery for ground birds.

*Plant a diversity of site appropriate fruit, nut and pine trees for bird and other animal food.

*Plant a diversity of appropriate flowering native species to attract native pollinators. In general, bees prefer blue and yellow flowers, butterflies prefer bright colors, moths prefer light colors and hummingbirds prefer reddish flowers with narrow tubes that droop down, though they also prefer yellow flowers of Oregon grape in late winter.

*Leave mud puddles uncovered for butterflies to add minerals to their diets.

*Butterflies love warm, sunny edges & openings with low wind and rocks for warmth. Face large stones in sunny south facing spots.

*Place split logs flat side down, or uncut logs, on moist soil in shade near water sources for salamanders. Snakes and lizards prefer logs in dry sunny grassy spots.

*Leave piles of stones, fallen branches and leaves in piles near wet areas for toads and other amphibians. Create a radius of lush plants around water sources for cover.

*Add structural diversity, with many layers for insects, fungi, moss, and all animals for nesting, foraging and cover.

*Do not relocate animals in, but coax them in by creating their preferred conditions, (e.g. expanding native grass patches for snake habitat).


“For me adding anything is about adding species that I estimate are adapted to the soil and sun conditions that might have been in a spot like that before European contact.  All of them might support various co-adapted species… For example, I planted Nettles at a sunny forest opening, where the Satyr Anglewing butterflies would like that sunny opening habitat, and in a spot where the soil moisture and sun seemed appropriate for the nettles, and sure enough I later found Satry Anglewing caterpillars in their characteristic tents on the nettles there. ” – Stewart Wechsler

Facilitated Ecosystem Recovery

Facilitated Ecosystem Recovery: A Stewardship Paradigm Proposal

John Muir: When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.

The naturalist Joan Bradley wrote her final book Bringing Back the Bush:The Bradley Method of Bush Regeneration chronicling the recovery of Australian plant communities based on regeneration principles proven not just effective but generalizable to a variety of settings. After the ‘gentle art’ proved itself over time, education and training in the ‘Bradley Method’ spread locally and abroad.

My sister and I had for years been pulling up seedling weeds growing near the walking tracks in Ashton Park, and had looked despondently at the big ones scattered through the bush further in. We had always found these widespread invaders particularly offensive, and longed for the strength we believed was needed to cope with them. We felt that, because of their threat to the whole of the bush, these should be the first weeds to be destroyed, and were therefore delighted to see unsightly walls of tall lantana fall to the mattocks and brushhooks of the park staff.

We had never thought it possible that such very bad areas could be restored by anything other than this sort of clearing followed by replanting. The clearing was mostly confined to very heavy lantana infestations, where the few native seedlings that came up were quickly swamped by an explosion of assorted weeds, but in a few places work was extended into areas of mixed weeds and natives. Here, where they were not hopelessly outnumbered, the natives responded magnificently. Shrubs, despite disturbed roots and broken branches, put out new shoots, and seedlings of many species germinated along with the weeds

With growing enthusiasm, we began to understand that there might be another way to fight the invaders. Given half a chance, the bush would fight back on its own behalf… systematic hand weeding, carefully done, was a spectacular success…

…The turning point for bush regeneration came in 1975when the National Trust commissioned Joan, Toni May and their small team of regenerators to demonstrate their techniques in Blackwood Reserve, Beecroft. While regenerating Blackwood, Joan also proved to herself that the principles established in Hawkesbury sandstone bushland could also be applied to the moist schlerophyll woodland growing on the richer shale-derived soils and, ultimately, rainforest. With the support and sponsorship of the National Trust… the demand by local councils for the services of trained regenerators grew rapidly…

With demand for regenerators outstripping supply, a school was established to teach the Bradley Method to conservationists keen to assist in bringing back their local bushland. Joan was commissioned to provide tuition and gradually that small band of previously unpaid workers grew – former pupils became teachers, and the Bradley Method is now being used throughout Australia and in some countries overseas…

In Joan’s words, ‘As a very old-fashioned scientist and former chemist, I had a thorough grounding in what was then the simple scientific method of experiment and observation. Repeatability still remains for me the acid test. This method is repeatable anywhere as long as the three principles are followed’.

pp. 9-12

Inspired by witnessing ample effort in restoration practices with questionable long term effectiveness, Joan Bradley and her sister Eileen experimented with a naturalistic method, eventually shifting well-intended yet damaging restoration efforts into a more nuanced, bio-centric approach.

In this current millennia marked by the advent of agriculture and shuffling of species, eventually nature loving humans and organizations heard and heeded the call from suffering ecosystems and galvanized enormous efforts to reverse the damage. While modern humans struggled with their place and purpose in the natural world to which they lost their indigenous connection, the call for stewardship grew ever clear. The meme ‘natives are good, nonnatives are bad’ slowly crept into the mindset of the masses. In Cascadian metropolitan localities, plentiful acres of nonnative plant species were removed, with native species planted in their stead. As the focus now shifts increasingly into maintenance and monitoring modes, long term outcomes of these efforts are yet to be learned.  To what extent will these installed plantings regenerate, and revive former rich and diverse plant, animal and fungal communities?With inspiration from Joan and Eileen Bradley and the scientific stories of innovative stewards in the field, the gentle art and field science of the here named Facilitated Ecosystem Recovery (FER) approach is now presented. This method centers on 1. native plant species regeneration, 2. soil stability and 3. habitat recovery.

These three central ideas have implied meanings particular to this new paradigm that set them apart from the current paradigm’s fruitful goals of removing ‘x’ acres of nonnatives and installing ‘x’ number of natives.  The endeavor in ‘species regeneration’ is more than installing plants matching conditions and target forest types. In this model species regeneration means life forms growing themselves, manifesting their own connections and communities, sometimes with careful, effective human assistance.  The endeavor in ‘soil stability’ is more than erosion control. In this model soil stability means a maintenance of a substrate condition in which natives have adapted to regenerate more so than nonnatives, and a protection of both mycorrhizal symbiotic associations below the surface and moss, lichen, and liverwort communities above.  The endeavor in ‘habitat restoration’ is more than planting native plants to attract native pollinators or other native animals. In this model habitat restoration means the patient coaxing of co-adapted life forms to return to their pre-invasion home through caretaking of ‘habitat harmony circles’.   In the FER model, enabling the healing and regrowth of natural communities is measured by the maximum return of richness of diversity of organisms previously in place, or in newly co-adapting, co-evolving communities.

The Bradley Method has been self-discovered, envisioned and manifested in the hearts, minds and actions of scattered stewards.  The heartbeat of this method is observant, caring humans assisting ecosystems in healing themselves. With experience stewards intuitively develop a tool box of techniques to accompany their evolution in understanding. For example, seasoned stewards shift from subscribing to the practice of stripping a mat of ivy and installing scatterings of plants on the cleared surface, to knowing that removing ivy systematically over time starting from upwind, while encouraging a variety of natives to seed (e.g. fringecup, Tellima grandiflora ) and spread (e.g. blackcap, Rubus leucodermis) during wait times between ivy pullings is a more effective recovery.   FER is already in operation, already alive. Briefly put, ‘forest stewards’ and ‘native plant stewards’ are becoming entire ‘ecosystem stewards’.

Both old and new paradigms recognize plants’ resilience, their ability to compete with other species, the conditions to which they are adapted, and their co-evolution with other species with which they form balanced plant communities.

The ability of a specific plant to compete depends on the site where it is growing… Under optimal growing conditions a species is more capable of competing – is said to have a ‘competitive advantage’. In a natural system competition and plant composition shifts brought on by competitive advantage eventually lead to distinctive plant communities, which are regulated by competitive pressures. This suggests that a balanced natural system is one in which competitive pressures are maintained between plant communities.

                                                                                     p. 18, Carkeek Park Forest Management Plan, 2007

But where the old paradigm centered on fast paced, large scale invasive species removal followed by native plantings, the FER paradigm centers on highly effective yet gradual natural regrowth of native species in their natural configurations back over areas overtaken by nonnative species. Before weeds are removed, consideration is given to the community of what could and is expected to move in on its own. The central role of the steward is to act as a careful catalyst in the natural re-formation of balanced native plant communities and ecosystems.

Facilitated Ecosystem Recovery Principles

paced weed removal

  1. Focus on strategic, paced, native regeneration. Observe native plant species and their resilience over time. Remove weeds that can be expected to be replaced soon by regenerating natives.

A. In native dominant places: spot pull nonnative seedlings. Selectively watering and mulching native seedlings & saplings are options. If young native trees struggle under a native thicket, liberate by pruning back shrubs until the trees break canopy.

B. In places mixed with natives and nonnatives: focus on expanding stronger edges of native patches into weaker edges of nonnative patches.

C. In nonnative dominant places: systematically expand neighboring patches of natives into stands of nonnatives along their weaker edges, cutting inroads and flanking them. If planting is needed, install plants in places of pulled weeds if possible to disturb less soil. If needed, alongside nonnatives strategically plant paired competitive natives to hold over until the next weed pulling.

2. Aim for increased stability. Perhaps the hallmark of the post agricultural world is vast disruption to nature. The rate and volume of today’s human disruption needs to be slowed and reversed with big but cautious plans and strong but careful hands. Rich, diverse ecosystems are resistant to change, thriving in stability with slow shifts. Stewards manifest ecosystem recovery through everyday actions and decisions. They plant natives and remove nonnatives gently, in such a way that keeps soil layers intact. If Valley garter snakes (Thamnophis sirtalis fitchi) are living in nonnative grasses, stewards slowly replace those grasses with native grasses in which native snakes will shift. Most critically, with the multitude of beneficial functions of wetlands and riparian corridors to all life, they are high priority and in need of customized methods to protect and diversify them. Wetlands and waterways naturally shift and sometimes expand over time. Those natural processes can be recovered though some actions like, where possible, removing river and creek mechanisms that control route and rate of flow, and some non-actions like refraining from intervention in the lives of beavers (Castor canadensis).

3. Increase ecosystem diversity. What remains in urban and suburban natural areas are remnants of native communities under constant, rapid attack by opportunistic alien species. For both paradigms the goal is returning to earlier ecosystems. While the primary organism group with which FER stewards interact is plants, the ultimate goal is facilitating the recovery of the whole community of plants, animals and fungi that likely thrived previously. Stewards start with remaining native species remnants, and revive the missing ecosystem pieces. In assisting a diversity of nearby native species to slowly, naturally regenerate into nonnative spaces, or in a larger area where nonnatives have been removed, or when the restoration area is bare ground, a variety of methods are available. Observe the variety of nearby species, their associations and communities, and draw from them. Train crawling plants such as creeping blackberry (Rubus ursinus) by layering into the area. Live stake from nearby natives. Disperse indigenous seeds. Etc. In bare areas wait and carefully watch for new native seedlings while pulling nonnative seedlings. Where there are not enough native species moving in over time to create a thriving community, based on conditions and data on plant associations in reference sites, introduce plants sourced locally based on a plan to revive the ecosystem. When sourcing plants to introduce into a recovering area, it’s best to utilize gene stock from known origin, from wild, local wild parentage. Exceptions to waiting for natural regeneration before installing outside plant material are special cases such as a place in need of slope stability, or along a creek in need of sediment runoff control. Remember to include vital soil and substrate features such as mosses, lichens, liverworts, fungi, natural mulch, logs, etc. Ecosystem stewards study and cautiously experiment with how to include a variety of community features, have soil and water tested to inform them how to best diversify and heal the habitat, continually learn through research and collaboration with specialists, etc.


Factilitated Ecosystem Recovery cautions that a place with nonnatives is better left untouched until a thorough, thoughtful customized plan is tailored than the place be disrupted in such a way, common with mass restoration changes, that causes unintended ecosystem consequences. For example, a steward noticed that when a large expanse of shrubby Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) was removed, the California quail (Callipepla californica)habitat disappeared. He realized if the shrubby alien had been slowly removed along edges while facilitating regrowth of native shrubbery, quails could have shifted to the new but similar habitat. Through observations, and sometimes based on sad learning experiences, stewardship and ecosystem recovery unfolds.  Under the current paradigm numerous volunteers have one time experiences with restoration events doing mass weed removal or mass planting. They often never return to observe the short or long term outcome of their effort. The proposed paradigm invites even one time volunteers to raise awareness, to understand the place more keenly.

Nuanced stewarding entails returning and re-returning to the same place, using all senses to understand, noticing how environment, life and their connections are changing, envisioning what is possible based on plant capabilities, and planning systematic interaction with the place in such a way that encourages native community richness, resilience, regeneration and connection. Ongoing observations to make are invasive and native vitality and spread; plant community development; forest structure, now and projected; wildlife cover, food, nesting; soil conditions, changes, movement; water flow, retention, effect; and human and natural event impacts. Since natural regeneration is the goal, monitoring plots can measure outcomes by counting the number of regenerating native species, and ideally conducting indicator inventories of other life (such as fungi, birds and amphibians) in a given area over time. While still observing individual community members, FER shifts the focus substantially from individual plant to whole community recovery. The full richness of trees, shrubs, herbaceous vascular plants, mosses, lichens, liverworts, fungi, and associated animal community members are the end goals.


While the focus is on native plant regeneration, this is accomplished primarily through ongoing gradual weed removal, with preference to gentler methods except in cases such as where weed wrenches are needed. A systematic series of weed clearings a radius around natives gives them more room to spread naturally.  Ecosystem stewards hone ‘tricks of the trade’ to serve one purpose, such as controlling a specific weed, that they come learn positively affects the greater natural community. For example, a steward advocates using plywood sheets over nonnative groundcover that kill weeds without soil disturbance, while creating highly valued shelter for garter snakes (and other animals), which in turn eat alien slugs. The alien slugs, being a major problem for multiple native plants, especially seedlings, are not adapted to this predation. Plywood boards are periodically shifted in ‘half steps’ to kill more weeds under half the board while retaining prime snake habitat. In interactions such as these, stewards take precautions to reduce harm to the range of native living organisms. For example, when a steward led a mass mulching event, she did a portion at a time to give ground bee species opportunity to shift.  Ecosystem stewarding includes a holistic variety of variables.

When leaving weeds – entire or in part – on site, place them on top of their own kind, condensing them not spreading them, just in case.  Work parties are aware that they themselves are seed dispensers, carefully avoiding and removing seeds on clothes and shoes especially from noxious weeds (e.g. garlic mustard, Alliaria petiolata).  While most weeds can be composted on site with the added benefit of becoming mulch, some weeds are so hearty, so crafty with propagating, and are such a threat to the ecosystem, they require safe removal from the environment.

Weed Control (from gentlest to most disruptive)

    1. No removal. The species is not aggressive and not widespread; it stays in place or succumbs to native species.
    2. Remove seedlings. Where natives and nonnatives co-exist, this is likely the most important intervention.
    3. Covering, trampling or drowning. Give natives the advantage. When walking in a natural area, step on nonnative species. If assured of no unintended consequences, place pulled weeds on top of live weeds. Stewards hone, share and compare ‘tricks of the trade’ outcomes, especially results of controversial methods like repeatedly stomping Japanese knotweed (Fallopia japonica), preferably under water.
    4. Remove flowers/seeds. This can afford time for encroaching natives to move in, or serve as a temporary measure to halt spread until weed removal.
    5. Repeat cutting back. This eventually exhausts most roots while keeping the soil stable. An example of when this may be called for is removing Himalayan blackberry (Rubus armeniacus) from a slope.
    6. Snagging. Girdling or topping and removing branches from a large shrub or tree has the added advantage of creating vital snag habitat. Ecosystem stewarding takes advantage of opportunities, such a having a topped cherry laurel (Prunus laurocerasus) serve as a natural mulch branch farm.
    7. Hand removal. Gentle loosening & pulling, holding down the soil with one hand while removing with the other, then refilling the hole helps keep soil layers intact as possible. Certain species are easier to remove when the soil reaches a certain high or low saturation level. Many short lived weeds are easiest to pull when they have put most of their energy from their roots into the fully grown flower stalk (but if pulled too close to seed production and left on site, the plant may put all remaining energy into production of viable seeds before dying). Stewards work with the weather, plants’ cycles, etc.
  • Tool removal. It is important to return soil layers as closely as possible. When digging especially large holes to remove a weed or plant a native, remove one layer at a time, heap separately, then return soil to matching layer.
  • Poison. As this affects land, water and wildlife, this is a last resort. As with Integrative Pest Management, under FER without conclusive studies comparing effectiveness such as of holly (Ilex aquifolium) girdling to inoculation, and with varied results being reported from the field, it is advisable to continue nonpoisonous methods until testing concludes poison is substantially more effective.


 Though these guidelines are designed to maintain stability through minimal yet effective intervention, they are flexible depending on the situation.  Special cases may include native plants under rapid attack, or noxious weeds. A swath of forest with ivy (Helix hedera) growing across the ground and up big leaf maples (Acer macrophyllum) killing them may call for survival rings around the maples until strong native patches are facilitated in years in the future. Ivy and other invasive vines produce flowers and seeds when they reach the sun, so there is substantial added benefit of killing ivy climbing a tree toward sunlight than killing ivy on the ground in the shade. A final cautionary word about weed removal: As an area recovers, a variety of native species may start to take hold. If unsure of a plant species’ identification, leave it in place and take a picture to an expert to confirm identification before removing it, or let it grow until it becomes recognizable.

Ecosystem stewards come to know idiosyncratic ‘things’, what’s found in the scat of coyote or owl, the depth of pileated woodpecker holes, particular plant and animal species indicators, that the most important butterfly host plant is stinging nettle, that prevailing winds are NE so plant SW for seed spread, and that certain ant species disperse seeds for certain plant species (e.g. bleeding heart and trillium). They experiment with things like putting clear plastic on top of rocks or bare ground to encourage moss, and laying sheets, cardboard, plywood, woodchips or piles of removed weeds on top of weak nonnatives  to not just serve as a weed control methods but wildlife habitat. They do things like use sticks as natural markers, plant with ‘community connectivity corridors’ in mind, place split logs flat side down for good surface contact to make habitat wildlife cover, and peek under dead fern fronds to observe what organisms take advantage of that cover, and study those organisms to understand their role in the natural system. They are emotionally invested in things like encouraging cow parsnip (Heracleum lanatum) because it is a host plant for the anise swallowtail butterfly (Papilio zelicaon), or introducing the one of the three native thistles, the short-styled thistle (Cirsium brevistylum) because the rare, migrator butterfly painted lady (Vanessa cardui) prefers it and the ‘lost’ butterfly mylitta crescent (Phyciodes mylitta) requires it. Ecosystem stewards understand how little they know, but trust that these sole ‘things’ likely lead to a complexity of beneficial community outcomes, and gradually come to see the connections.

An ecosystem centered plan focuses not just on which plants stay, which go, and which will be introduced, but intricate questions on a range of topics. How close should genetically unique species be planted for cross pollination opportunities? What is the natural transition process of gap niches serving as rich sunny microhabitat openings? What is the value of introducing ‘lost’ species in suitable, protected, well-watched areas with regeneration a top priority, such as giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata)? At what point should a mature nonnative tree be snagged to make room for a nearby upcoming native tree? What are the implications of nonnatives hybridizing with natives? What size of an area is needed to recover an ecosystem, and if an area under recovery is not large enough what does the stewardship purpose become? What is the feasibility and effectiveness of introducing coyotes (Canis latrans) to prevent sapling loss due to overpopulating rodent mountain beavers (Aplodontia rufa)?

Despite all the specialized knowledge, common weed removal is the primary FER activity, with the location and pace determined by the strength and rate of native plant natural regeneration. Still, there is a time for other forms of propagation assistance. This approach advocates limiting sourced material ideally to local, wild genetic stock that comes from close by as possible (25 to 100 miles, and from within 2500 feet elevation of the site.) and from nearby reference sites with relatively similar growing conditions.

 Propagation (from gentlest to most disruptive)

  1. Thinning native stump shoots. When a mature native tree falls, a mat of shoots may spring up. By selecting a couple strong shoots and cutting back all the others, the tree may regrow.
  2. Seed dispersal. Certain species propagate easily from seed. For example, sweet cicely (Myrrhis odorata)spreads readily by seeding in along trails with or without intended assistance. It is among the plants whose bur seeds catch onto fur or clothes of passing animals. To begin spreading into a bare area, plant a seed dispersing native community species upwind. Many seeds, skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) to name one, can be collected, prepared and dispersed in ways that mimic natural timings and processes, such as harvesting the leaves to lain over seeds on wet soil.
  3. Live staking. Certain species propagate well by live stakes which causes little soil disruption.
  4. Layering. Certain species layer at nodes (e.g. trailing blackberry, Rubus ursinus) or branch tips (e.g. blackcap, Rubus leucodermis) to form separate plants. By lightly covering these plants at the node or tip with soil, they will grow roots, and can be left to spread or divided.
  5. Dividing. Certain species can be divided at the roots (e.g. sword fern, Polystichum munitum, etc.), rhizome (e.g. vine maple, Acer circinatum) or stolon (e.g. wild strawberry, Fragaria chiloensis).
  6. Bare root or root ball planting. Planting methods can be utilized that minimize soil disruption and keep layers in place. Watering in, creating moats, mulch rings and mixing mulch into the soil can lead to health and higher survival rates.


7.  Transplanting plants or rhizomes. This could be a good idea depending on the situation, but the soil disturbance in two locations must be weighed.

Live staking, layering, dividing, and transplanting rhizomes are all vegetative reproduction (same DNA), producing clones that do not add to intra-species diversity. There are times when this is justified, but sexual reproduction is preferred for diversification. When vegetative reproduction is used, attempts should be made to collect material from a wide range of different unrelated plants. When collecting cuttings from Indian-plum (Oemleriai cerasiformis), for example, collect from different areas. There is a high likelihood that most or all of the Indian-plums (male or female) in an area are clones. Even several female plants in an area are likely one plant. Gathering from plants far enough away can increase chances of diverse DNA.

Ecosystem stewards study and strive to coax in or install recovering community associates such as moss, lichen, liverwort, fungi, animals and other ecosystem features. For example, a spongy log sections can be ‘planted’ next to plant species that prefer moist soil such as lady fern (Athyrium filix-femina) for water retention. Holes can be dug into a decomposing log to inoculate with a nearby mushroom mycelium.  The moss twisted ulota (Ulota obtusiuscula) with licorice fern (Polypodium glycyrrhiza ) straddled in the crook of a big leaf maple (Acer macrophyllum).  With deep understanding of the environment and plant capabilities, some steward interactions become quite intricate. For example, an anonymous steward wrote that he is “increasingly using natives that might not be the most appropriate to the microhabitat where I put them, but may cover more quickly than some other natives to cover a spot until rarer, slower spreading, less competitive natives can spread. As the weaker, rarer natives spread, I will then pull out or otherwise control the quicker growing area natives from around them. Collomia grandiflora, is an example of a locally rare native annual species, that would have only grown in some of the rockiest, sunniest soils, but can often cover bare ground quickly. They have very weak root systems, so once they are covering ground around natives I am prioritizing for my recovery work, I can easily pull out enough of the Collomia grandiflora around the priority natives to give them any adjacent space they would want to spread.”

With increasing human and pet populations, especially in urban areas, keeping dwindling natural areas providing wildlife habitat defragmented is critical and will become increasingly challenging. Entrances to work trails can be camouflaged behind a thicket of shrubbery to not encourage other human or pet encroachment. If deciding to close a social trail or opening, doing so early will deter widening compaction. Unofficial trails can be closed with a combination of encouraging native plant barrier growth (e.g. black hawthorn, Crataegus douglasii) and laying down deterring natural mulches, such as thorny stems (e.g. Himalayan blackberry, Rubus armeniacus – excluding advantageous tips and roots). Where informal social openings form, strategies can be used to reclaim the space for nature. Pruning sight lines at the 3’ – 6’ range along the edge makes the opening more visible (removing an aura of privacy), while scattering the pruned clippings in the opening’s floor provides a natural mulch. As with along informal trails, encouraging or planting native barrier species such as species with thorns (e.g. Rosa) or sharp points (e.g. tall Oregon grape, Berberis aquifolium), or patches that widely fill low space (e.g. common snowberry, Symphoricarpos albus) encourages natural borders.  Where soil has been trampled bare put down mulch and spot pull nonnatives as they arise while encouraging natives. Where additional protection is needed, environmental controls such as split rail fencing have proven to be effective barriers. While it is ironic that human disconnection from nature quite possibly contributed to modern human over-encroachment, the state of the natural world today requires human withdrawal from nature to a certain extent to allow for recovery.

Facilitated Ecosystem Recovery interaction begins in areas of most natives/least nonnatives and works toward areas of most nonnatives/least natives. Though the ‘tree-iage’ model applies to this new paradigm, some strategic differences result in almost opposite methodology. For example, because weeds tend to grow thickest along trails, the new method begins working from deeper in, then toward the trail. And ‘platforms’ holding weed piles may be supplanted or replaced with composting on site by scattering weeds (leaving roots and other propagating parts ‘high & dry so they don’t root & shoot’) to replicate natural mulch.

Mulch is a part of the old & new paradigms, but the new paradigm gives preference to ‘natural mulch’ (i.e. as is found in a natural setting, not woodchips).  The goal is replicating natural conditions conducive to first successional healing and rich ecosystem. In addition to holding moisture, preventing erosion, stabilizing soil temperatures, deterring weeds and decaying into plant food, natural mulch is haven to a diversity of lively decomposers.  Native plant species have adapted to a soil top of natural mulch, a metamorphasizing spongy bed of flowers, fruits, broad leaves, needles, bark, branches and some fallen logs, floating atop a rich layer of decaying duff.

The layer below mulch and duff, humus, is millions of dead plant and animal cells transitioning into living soil. Bottom feeder life giving organisms, bacteria and fungi, turn ‘rot’ into life nourishing soil. The old paradigm focuses heavily on what we see above ground. While some soil stabilizing methods are the same in both paradigms, like natural erosion controls, ecosystem stewards study, heed, protect and nourish as much below surface as above. For example, FER closely examines the nature, function, types and connections of mycorrhizae and carefully experiments with coaxing compatible forms of this plant nourishing life into recovering communities.

Facilitated Ecosystem Recovery manifests in work parties that begin with dynamic conversation about and observation of the place, not just the plan but how it is expected to work and why this is the preferred method. Volunteers get not only an education, but inspiration to join the stewardship movement. Large work parties can break into small teams that scatter out in different places scouring for weeds while causing minimal disruption. In areas of native plants, the unhurried, cautious tiptoe of seasoned stewards at times takes the form of toe-heel fox walking. Stewards ensure no, or minimal temporary social trails are created in their work. Work party documentation may take the form of a user friendly log book to share with other and future stewards advancing the recovery, with plant lists, maps, history of interactions & plans.

Lastly, there is much talk on how climate change affects stewardship practices. Should we ‘plant with climate change in mind’? Regarding climate change implications for restoration methodology, the science on the multitude of variables, how they interact, and significant conclusions is in infancy. While there is solid science on global mean temperatures rising in the next 50-200 years, there is much uncertainty with shorter time scales and regional predictions. Planning for climate change on a bioregional scale assuming drier summers and less snow pack particularly at lower elevations, is playing unknown odds.  Variability from bioregion to bioregion is great. For example, in the Puget trough in recent years temperatures have stabilized and snow packs have been full. How global patterns affect bioregions is inexact science, but can be observed to detect changes and trends. Trends, however, can be short-lived or perhaps evolve into long-lasting patterns, making long term planning difficult. Even if vegetation management plans are very flexible and adaptable to latest findings, long term stewardship decisions (e.g. tree planting palettes) are very likely to have unintended consequences.  Further, mass extinctions such as this 6th vast die off open ecological niches that become catalysts for diversification and association reformation. Humans cannot wholly predict what form these changes will take, much less facilitate this rapid change. Planting any species ‘with climate change in mind’ at best only speeds a process that needs to be slowed. However, when systems are changing it is the ideal time to learn how species interact and adapt. For now, stewards are left to cautiously observe and document the changes to learn from them.

The mass meme that started humans shuffling species around with all the unexpected consequences needs to be replaced with a meme of stewarding to heal ecosystems based on their own interests, not humans’. Observing and learning from the changes while continuing restoration efforts under current conditions is the prudent path for ecosystems.  Have humans learned enough from mistakes with myriads of unintended outcomes to now let natural native plant regeneration guide the way?  May humans heed the clarion call sounding all around to adopt gentle, bio-centric approaches such as Facilitative Ecosystem Recovery that work with and effective revive nature.


Bringing Back the Bush: The Bradley Method of Bush Regeneration, Joan Bradley (unfortunately out of print). Published in Australia in 2002 by Reed New Holland.