Letters to the Editor

Readers write about restoring ecosystems and going to the movies in Africa.

Restore, not just maintain, ecosystems

Regarding the April 19 editorial, "Human-created 'wilderness' in the Galápagos": In this editorial, the Monitor suggests that efforts to protect the natural world should focus on better managing what's left, rather than investing in ecological restoration that projects "a myth of lost purity onto a fallen landscape." We agree that better management of "what's left" is needed, but, unfortunately, "what's left" is not enough to maintain the ecology on which we all depend.

It is true that even our most imaginative and ambitious ecological restoration projects will never recreate what we have lost, but to focus on this limitation is short-sighted. Ecological restoration is not important because it recreates ecosystems, but because it heals them in a way that allows them to recreate themselves.

Today, the reach of human influence on the environment is global and the need for long-term solutions more pressing than ever. While there are many examples of personal and cultural solutions to our ecological crisis, ecological restoration is emblematic. The Society for Ecological Restoration defines restoration as an intentional activity that initiates or accelerates the recovery of an ecosystem with respect to its health, integrity, and sustainability. Restoration is working – lands once cultivated now support myriad wildlife, concrete-capped streams have seen the light of day, once-polluted waters now flow clean, and some endangered species are making a comeback. The bulldozers once used to clear land of native vegetation, level fields, and sow crops are now being employed to remove levees, reconnect floodplains, and sow native plants.

Would Darwin chuckle at our feeble attempts to heal the ecological damage we have done?

Darwin was a champion of knowledge and individual responsibility. In The Descent of Man, he wrote, "A moral being is one who is capable of comparing his past and future actions or motives, and of approving or disapproving of them." It is exactly this type of reflection that lies at the heart of ecological restoration. Motivated by past actions that have disrupted or destroyed ecological systems, dedicated individuals are working together to remove introduced predators from islands, to return water to rivers, and to replant native prairies.

These actions cannot recreate what has been lost. Restoration to some idealized former state of nature is not possible, nor even always desirable. But working to restore the functional integrity of ecosystems, and the values of the services they provide to people, is a worthy goal. This is one way in which we can protect and enhance the complex ecological processes that support life on Earth.

We think Darwin would nod in approval.

Nathaniel E. Seavy, Ph.D.,
and Thomas Gardali

PRBO Conservation Science

Petaluma, Calif.

The African cinema experience

In regard to the Feb. 19 article, "Where Africans go to the movies": I am at college in Nairobi and whenever I am home on holiday, I spend much of my day at the movies. This story described clearly my typical day upcountry. I never thought people in neighboring countries also have such movie places. I love movies with fighting and so it is with everyone in the village.

However, the article wasn't holistic.The writer should have taken time to write about other "real movie cinemas" that are present in the major cities to balance her reportage and avoid painting the wrong picture of Africa as a destitute continent.

Cyrus Njagi Muriithi
Nairobi, Kenya

The Monitor welcomes your letters. All submissions are subject to editing. Letters must include your full name; your city, state, and country; and your telephone number. Any letter accepted may appear on our website, www.CSMonitor.com. E-mail letters to oped@csps.com. Or mail letters to Readers Write, 210 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA 02115.

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