We’re All In This Together: Restoration Ecology And Animal Welfare
Restoration ecology is the scientific study that supports ecological restoration. It provides the science that informs the most effective approaches to restoring damaged ecosystems. In his book “The Land Ethic”, conservationist Aldo Leopold expanded the idea of community to include soils, waters, plants, and animals. A land ethic puts humans back into the role of member or citizen of the land rather than its master. We are supporters of the community rather than engineers or conquerors.
Despite how the land ethic values animals, there is still no consensus on whether or how to support their well-being. Researchers in the restoration ecology field continue to debate how or whether the well-being of wild animals should factor into restoration efforts. The authors of this opinion piece offer three ways to incorporate the perspective of wild animal welfare into restoration ecology.
First, considering the welfare needs of wildlife could strengthen people’s relationship with nature. The animal welfare movement views animals as sentient; thus, they are stakeholders in any activity that affects them. The Five Domains model is the most common way of assessing animal welfare, and it could be a valuable tool for restoration ecologists to assess welfare efforts. It looks at an animal’s nutrition, environment, health, and behavior. Results of this review are used to infer the animal’s subjective state. For example, if food is scarce, the animal is probably hungry. If an animal is limping, they may be in pain. This perspective may encourage empathy and altruism towards these animals.
Second, factoring in animal welfare could reinforce “biotic integrity,” the concept used to determine the capacity of the land to support biological communities. Ecosystem restoration may enhance animal welfare and improving animal welfare may enhance the condition of the ecosystem. For instance, reducing stress in animals that are key to ecosystem functioning may improve the condition of both the ecosystem and the animals themselves. Quality of life measures for both humans and animals could provide data on the success of a restoration effort.
Finally, wildlife welfare can impact population recovery. In practice, restoration outcomes are largely uncertain. Even when an area seems restored, we don’t always know if the habitat will actually support wildlife. Incorporating animal welfare factors such as physiology, behavior, and cognition into models of ecosystem restoration may improve their accuracy. Even knowing basic demographic characteristics such as sex, age, and social rank can help predict how a population will fare.
Animal advocates may be surprised to learn that whether to consider animal welfare when restoring habitats is even up for debate. But apparently it is, and advocates involved in environmental restoration can use this article to make the case for considering the well-being of animals when planning restoration projects.