Select Page

Coastal Heritage Magazine

Reviving Eden

Ecological restoration reflects the American spirit—our constant utopian desire to rehabilitate the world. Are ecological restorers bringing back long-lost landscapes—or creating an artificial, costly “nature”?

Log Jam. Over the past century, historic longleaf pine forests have been replaced by vast tree farms of loblolly pine, valuable to the pulp–and–paper industry. Photo by Wade Spees.

Share This Article

Coastal Heritage Magazine

Volume 14 – Number 3
Winter 1999-2000

John H. Tibbetts
Editor

Reviving Eden

Americans have always embraced landscape restoration. The first ecological restorers in the New World were Christian white settlers, who viewed themselves as gardeners of blighted wastelands—even as they pushed Indians west and leveled forests for agriculture and cities. For centuries, until the frontier was gone, settlers fervently believed they were recovering property from people they regarded as savages, and resurrecting their own spiritual health.

Today, when modern Americans hear the word “nature,” most of us think of places far from the madding crowd. “To many Americans, nature is synonymous with wilderness,” wrote British historian Peter Coates in a 1998 book. Wild areas, according to popular culture, should be protected from modern industrial society. That is, we should leave nature alone when we can.

But for most of our history, Americans were thoroughly frightened by wilderness, regarding it as “deserted,” “savage,” “desolate,” “barren,” and a “waste,” noted William Cronon, University of Wisconsin historian, in a 1995 essay. When Europeans began to invade North America in the 17th century, they saw the vast green woods as forbidding and spiritually dead. Settlers “shared the long Western tradition of imagining wild country as a moral vacuum, a cursed and chaotic wasteland,” wrote historian Roderick Nash in a 1982 book.

In their paintings and stories, Europeans of this era portrayed highly cultivated landscapes—farms and orchards and gardens—as their ideal. Raw nature, however, was terrifying. In 1651, the English philosopher Thomas Hobbes wrote that the state of nature was a place of “continuall feare, and danger of violent death; And the life of man, solitary, poore, nasty, brutish, and short.”

Rest Stop. A woodstork perches on a Hugo-damaged tree near the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge. Photo by Wade Spees.

Europeans nevertheless saw spiritual opportunities in North America. If settlers could fill the continent’s emptiness with cultivated landscapes and Christian probity, they could establish a holy union between themselves and their God. White settlers in the New World had no doubt about their model for environmental and spiritual restoration—it was the Garden of Eden, described in the King James Version of the Bible, which appeared in 1611 just as the English were building Jamestown in colonial Virginia.

In the biblical Genesis story, Adam and Eve were driven from paradise into the wilderness. The only way back to the Garden of Eden was through labor and suffering. Christian settlers took the Genesis tale as a guiding light. By turning forests into farms and towns, they hoped to turn it into a new Garden of Eden and thereby gain grace, according to Carolyn Merchant, a University of California at Berkeley historian, in a 1995 essay. “Human labor would redeem the souls of men and women, while cultivation and domestication would redeem the early wilderness.”

Beginning in the 1830s, these attitudes slowly began to change. As whites settled the United States east of the Mississippi River, wild places became more valued. American transcendentalist writers, influenced by English Romantic poets, described nature as a place to refresh oneself in contemplation and to know God. The writer Ralph Waldo Emerson argued that through communion with nature, people could find spiritual truth and God’s thoughts.

Still, the highest blessings that nature could offer, Emerson argued, were gardens and farms. As Emerson wrote in the literary journal The Dial in 1842: “This great savage country should be furrowed by the plough, and combed by the harrow . . . these wild prairies should be loaded with wheat; the swamps with rice . . . How much better when the whole land is a garden, and the people have grown up in the bowers of a paradise.”

Wildflowers.

After the bloody Civil War, a few Americans turned away from human society and looked to wild places for meaning and sustenance. Experiencing the rugged, isolated Sierra Nevada in 1869 for the first time, naturalist and writer John Muir remarked: “No description of Heaven that I have ever heard or read of seems half so fine.” This is a European-American describing nature’s ideal face, yet he is not referring to a tidy, cultivated landscape, but to a rough place far distant from farms and orchards.

In 1872, after Yellowstone had became the first national park, the federal government built roads and accommodations for visitors in far-flung places. Prosperous urban dwellers got a chance to travel to the spectacular sites—such as Niagara Falls and Yosemite—that naturalists described. It became fashionable to enjoy roughing-it hunting vacations in the Rockies and to call for protection of natural areas. National parks and wildlands were increasingly protected by a rich, powerful constituency in American politics.

During the first decade of the 20th century a dam threatened a Yosemite valley in California, which Muir regarded as a “temple.” He compared the valley to “cathedrals and churches.” And he attacked the dam’s defenders, declaring that their arguments were “curiously like those of the devil, devised for the destruction of the first garden—so much of the very best Eden fruit going to waste.” For Muir and a growing number of conservationists, the European-American view of wilderness as dark and evil had suddenly been reversed. Now wilderness was the Garden; modern man was the snake. “Satan’s home had become God’s own temple,” wrote Cronon.

During the past several decades, Americans have witnessed a rapid alteration of the environment, with growing numbers of species lost and ecosystems fragmented by development. Thus many modern Americans see industrial civilization as fallen from grace. And Muir’s notion that untrammeled nature provides a kind of Eden on earth has remained a popular notion, especially among prosperous urbanites. “Ever since the 19th century, celebrating wilderness has been an activity mainly for well-to-do city folks,” wrote Cronon.

Like every human culture, America throughout its history has longed for a disappeared Golden Age. But Americans are notoriously restless, endlessly redefining their ideal of nature.

For early Christian settlers, the Golden Age was the Garden of Eden. For today’s urbanites, ecological utopia is usually a wilderness area, preferably with a well-paved road leading to it. For many ecological restorers, the ideal ecosystem is a resurrected fragment of the pre-Columbian world before Europeans arrived on the continent. For other restorers, the landscape ideal is a farm or forest owned by their great-grandparents.

In our yearning to recover the past, modern Americans are remarkably similar to early European settlers, who gazed back nostalgically at another time and sought to rebuild their own version of a lost Eden.

Islands of Fire

Are ecological restorers bringing back long-lost landscapes—or creating an artificial, costly “nature”?

Phoenix. Bill Twomey, fire program manager at the Francis Marion National Forest, pulls back the needles of a juvenile longleaf pine after the woods have been burned. The needles protect the tree’s bud from heat and allow longleaf pine to thrive in a fire-dominated landscape. Photo by Wade Spees.

Bill Twomey gazes into a longleaf pine stand from a dirt road deep in the Francis Marion National Forest one calm August morning. “See how open it is?” asks Twomey, the forest’s fire program manager.

A longleaf stand provides a distinctive park-like vista, a broad, grassy meadow dappled with shade by slender pines, where you can see for 100 yards or more. Twomey steps through the forest’s knee-deep grasses, brilliant green in the morning sun, and calls out their evocative common names: “Meadow beauty, cinnamon fern, rattlesnake master, toothache grass—sun-loving, fire-loving plants. If we didn’t burn longleaf woods frequently, these diverse plant communities would plummet.”

He stops by a blackened young sweetgum tree killed by a fire the previous spring, crunching its leaves between his fingers. Landowners who want to sustain longleaf pine—the only Southern tree species that survives fire in its juvenile stage—should burn their forests frequently with controlled fires.

In the absence of fire, a longleaf’s open vista soon disappears, swallowed up by a subtropical jungle of loblolly pine and sweetgum, with a smattering of slash pine, water oak, and turkey oak. Twomey points across the road to a “fire-starved” stand of loblolly and sweetgum, a dense tangle of green steaming in the morning heat. “See how bushy that forest is over there?” he asks more in sorrow than disdain.

Lacking glamour and rarity, loblolly and sweetgum are viewed as aggressive weeds. Without repeated fires to destroy them, these fast-growing trees shade out the sun and kill off grasses. And in some cases, they spread from lowland, wet areas into higher elevations along the coast, which is longleaf habitat. “Any time you have an opening in the forest, you’ll have loblolly coming up,” says Robert Hooper, U.S. Forest Service wildlife biologist. In the 250,000-acre national forest, Twomey battles loblolly and sweetgum as if they were pests. “You have to fight them,” he says, “with fire.”

Before Europeans arrived in North America, Indians burned longleaf forests frequently to flush out game, to clear land for agriculture, and to make traveling easier, according to Robert T. Morgan, archaeologist with the U.S. Forest Service. Indians also burned the woods annually to encourage the growth of spring grasses that attract deer and other animals. “There is a lack of public understanding about the degree of influence that Native Americans had on the environment,” says Dave Egan, editor of the journal Ecological Restoration. “So much of the pre-European landscape was human-influenced. Indians continually managed it.”

Fire was the Indians’ most important tool for manipulating the landscape for hundreds—perhaps thousands—of years. “The Indians were active managers of the landscape, to say the least,” says Dean Gjerstad, Auburn University forestry professor.

When Europeans invaded the New World, they learned annual burning techniques from Indians to provide food for cattle. Along the South Carolina coastal plain, there was “a tradition of setting fire to the woods every spring for free-ranging cattle that would feed on the lush growth of green grass,” says Twomey. Perhaps more than any other region, the American South adapted and maintained Indian burning practices. Southerners set fires in the “piney woods, in the remote hills, and on the sandy soils where rice or cotton plantations failed to penetrate,” wrote fire historian Stephen J. Pyne in a 1982 book. Longleaf will grow on a lot of different sites, but especially on the coastal plain down to the Intracoastal Waterway, and even on sea islands, says Ken Outcalt, research ecologist with the U.S. Forest Service.

In many parts of the South’s pinelands, plants and animals evolved to the demands of chronic fire. But when traditional burning practices were discouraged during the first half of the 20th century, a number of fire-hungry plants and animals started dying out.

That’s why resource managers are restoring islands of an ancient “fire habitat” in the Francis Marion National Forest, located just northeast of the growing Charleston metropolitan area. The Forest Service is working to conserve and regenerate tens of thousands of acres of longleaf ecosystems in the national forest.

In the great majority of cases, restoration projects aim to protect biological diversity by reintroducing animals or protecting existing endangered species and wildlife habitat. “Ecosystem restoration is biodiversity restoration,” says Gene Wood, Clemson University forest wildlife biologist.

The Francis Marion project, for example, is driven by a legal requirement to preserve the biological diversity of the longleaf system. Under the Endangered Species Act, the Forest Service must restore and sustain older longleaf trees in the Francis Marion to protect the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker. This tiny bird nests and forages exclusively in the holes of older pine trees, which are increasingly rare, edged out of existence by a lack of fire and faster-growing trees. No more 50-year-old pines, no more woodpeckers. The Francis Marion holds the largest population of red-cockaded woodpeckers in South Carolina, and one of the largest in the Southeast.

Last Stand. With frequent controlled burns, foresters are restoring stands of longleaf pine, like this one in the Francis Marion National Forest. Photo by Wade Spees.

The woodpecker and other rare plants and animals could die out unless public and private landowners reconstruct their fire-dependent habitat. “By preserving longleaf, we can stop the hemorrhaging of species,” says Twomey. In other words, nature needs us. As Twomey notes: “Longleaf couldn’t exist now without our intervention. Today, man is essential to its survival.”

But is longleaf restoration worth the trouble? “You have to aggressively manage for longleaf in this region,” says Wood. Landowners must intervene with more frequent burning for longleaf, and that’s expensive. In some cases, foresters must plant costly seedlings grown in nurseries to jump-start longleaf stands. With such disadvantages, perhaps resource managers shouldn’t resuscitate longleaf, says Wood. “Maybe from an economic standpoint the best thing is to walk away from it.”

Controlled burning in some sections of the Francis Marion is becoming increasingly difficult as the Charleston-area population booms. Charleston’s northeastern edge is sprawling closer to the national forest, bringing more traffic and new residents. From 1993 to 1996, controlled fires led to six automobile accidents on highways through and adjacent to the forest. Smoke had settled on the highways at night, blinding drivers.
A number of “long-term residents on their last legs—with emphysema and other diseases”—are affected by prescribed fires in the Francis Marion, says Twomey, who is worried about the health effects of frequent burning in the forest. “What right,” he asks somberly, “do I have to ‘smoke-in’ a 13-year-old girl with asthma so we can perpetuate an endangered species?” As a result, some sections of longleaf forest have not been burned since 1996.

Other ecological restorations face similar controversies. In the Blue Mountains of Oregon and Washington, resource managers are burning forests to stop an epidemic insect infestation. The forests have been “fire-starved” for generations and require frequent blazes to control pests, though local residents object to the smoke. In the Pacific Northwest, federal agencies are considering taking down hydroelectric dams to restore free-flowing rivers and salmon migration, yet this measure would raise utility rates throughout the region.

Researchers have reintroduced wolves into the Northern Rocky Mountains that have been locally extinct for generations, but many ranchers are unhappy about new predators in their midst. And in Florida, government agencies have proposed the largest ecological restoration ever attempted—repairing the Everglades and adjacent Florida Bay—at a cost of $7.8 billion, while critics ask whether it is worth the expense.

Longleaf History

Many longleaf forests were lost partly because of a landscape restoration effort that went awry—an indication that such projects can sometimes do more harm than good.

For centuries after the Carolina colony was founded in 1670, Southerners cut down longleaf forests in fits and starts. Settlers cleared upland longleaf sites to grow row crops. Along rivers, colonists cut down longleaf pine and floated the timber downstream. In the coastal plain, pine forests were primarily exploited for naval stores—tar, pitch, and turpentine.

Because longleaf grows so slowly, it’s an extremely hard, durable wood, ideal for house framing and flooring. “The timber source that built the South,” says Gjerstad. The historic homes of Charleston, Beaufort, Georgetown, Savannah, and other cities were constructed with longleaf.

Even so, millions of acres of Southern longleaf survived into the late 19th century. But after the American Civil War, hunger for timber exploded as settlers spread across the continent along with new railroads, and industrial-scale forestry was born. Americans needed logs to build homes and towns, and to build railroad cars, bridges, and ties that would carry timber west. With unprecedented speed, loggers built railways into the interior forests of New York, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.

As the northern woods were stripped bare, loggers turned to the South and began clearcutting longleaf stands in the 1870s. By the 1930s, when the U.S. Forest Service bought the Francis Marion National Forest, most of the 60 to 90 million acres of original southeastern longleaf woods were already gone. Today, less than three million acres of longleaf forest remain in the Southeast, according to Outcalt. Nearly all are second-growth forests.

Natural Range of the Longleaf Pine, 1500-1870. Source: Outcalt, Kenneth W. and Raymond M. Sheffield. The Longleaf Pine Forest: Trends and Current Conditions. Asheville, N.C.: U.S. Forest Service Research Station, 1996.

In the 1920s, foresters sought to replant trees throughout the South. As part of this restoration project, experts pushed for federal and state policies requiring fire to be excluded from Southern woodlands, arguing that the suppression of burning would allow trees to regenerate more quickly.

Torching the woods had a bad reputation in those days. Indians and white settlers had used fire to clear farmland, which often meant “slash-and-burn agriculture, very similar to what happens now in the Amazon forest,” says Gjerstad. “Early farmers saw little value in the timber. They’d burn the longleaf woods, clear it for farms, and when the land would wear out, they’d move on.”

But suppressing fire was a big mistake, foresters say now. “All Southern pine species require fire for the health of the ecosystems,” though longleaf needs it most frequently, says Dale Wade, a fire researcher with the U.S. Forest Service. To preserve endangered species, longleaf woods could require annual burns in some cases. Other species of pine generally need burning every three to four years, once trees are past the juvenile stage, Wade notes. An important reason for controlled burning is to reduce the possibility of wildfires that destroy forests and valuable timber, along with homes and communities in their path. In the absence of controlled fires, shrubs and ground cover grow thick, providing fuel for catastrophic blazes.

Current total longleaf acreage by thousand per state.

With nearly 400,000 acres, South Carolina has the fourth largest area of longleaf pine forests.

In the 1940s and ‘50s, timber companies planted vast tree farms of loblolly pine as part of the reforestation drive in the South. Because it grows so quickly, loblolly is ideal for use by the pulp-and-paper industry, which brought jobs to Southern towns, established lucrative markets for timber, and helped to pull the region out of the depths of the Depression.

Although loblolly farms are an economic blessing, some consider their dominance on the coastal plain as an ecological curse. Loblolly plantations, environmentalists say, are biological “deserts” compared to longleaf woods, which have greater numbers of plant species than in any other forest type north of the tropics.

By the 1950s, foresters burned Southern pinelands after realizing that these woods need frequent fire. But Americans living at the growing suburban edges complained about smoke. Smoke can drift toward human settlements and harm residents who suffer from respiratory diseases. Property owners worried about getting sued if their fires got out of control and hurt someone. “Smoke and urban society don’t mix,” says Twomey.

Benchmarks for Restoration

Restoration means “putting something back the way it was,” notes William R. Jordan III, senior editor of Ecological Restoration.

But how do we know what a landscape was like in the past? And, anyway, how far back should we look for historical benchmarks for restoration? Resource managers could try to recreate the state of nature that existed about 14,000 years ago when human hunters migrated to what is now Alaska from Siberia. (Where would they find the mammoths, giant wolves, and saber-toothed cats that lived here in those days and have become extinct?) Or ecologists could aim to restore species that existed here 11,000 years ago when Indians arrived in South Carolina, or 500 years ago, when Europeans began to explore the New World. Or they could try to remake the environment that existed a century or two ago, before modern agriculture, forestry, and industrial development exploded across the landscape.

To find a historical benchmark, scientists study the history and biology of a particular place for clues about when human society transformed its ecology, such as cutting down great swaths of forest. Restorers then try to recreate the landscape that existed before the great disruption.

In North America, most restoration efforts aim to recreate bits and pieces of the pre-Columbian world—the time before Columbus and other European explorers. “Typically, 1500 is the goal” for restoration, says Gene Wood. After 1500, Europeans brought in exotic plants, animals, and bacteria, and eventually transformed the landscape.

In the case of longleaf pine, the great disruption began in the 1870s, when industrial loggers started clearcutting most of the older southeastern forests. Longleaf is unusual in that many Southerners managed these landscapes just as Indians had. So for longleaf restorers, the benchmark of “nature” is not a pre-Columbian landscape, but the forests of the Old South.

Once restorers know which environment they want to revive, then comes the hard part. Each ecosystem is unique and complex, as subtle and intricate as a Rembrandt. Building a copy of an ancient place can be as difficult as imitating a painting by a Renaissance master. But too often what emerges is fake “nature,” a place that lacks authenticity, critics say.

“A restoration makes the same impression as a new manufacturing plant: wonderful assemblages of nuts and bolts, put together like clockwork, a feat of modern technology, but lacking spirit, place, or lasting significance,” argued Orie L. Louks, University of Miami zoologist, in a 1994 essay.

True, it’s impossible to recreate forests or wetlands that disappeared long ago. As the physical climate changes, and as people dramatically alter the landscape, plant and animal life changes, too. An ecosystem that once thrived in a particular location might not be able to survive there intact today.

Hot Spot. Tony Sleznick, a smoke jumper from Redmond, Oregon, strides through the woods during a controlled burn in the Francis Marion National Forest. The U.S. Forest Service proposes to burn 30,000 acres of woods a year in the Francis Marion to protect endangered species, reduce the likelihood of catastrophic fires, and restore longleaf ecosystems. Photo by Wade Spees.

A rebuilt longleaf forest, for example, cannot replicate the biological diversity of an ecosystem that evolved over centuries. “We’ll never get the original longleaf forest back,” says Twomey of his project in the Francis Marion. “We’ve lost too many species.” Many restorers believe they can aim only for an approximation of the past. Ecological restoration is “the reassembly of a system that acts like the original,” wrote Jordan.

“Reassembling a completely destroyed ecosystem probably can’t be done,” says Jeff Glitzenstein, a botanist and research associate with the Tall Timbers Research Station in Tallahassee, Florida, and a longleaf consultant for the Forest Service. But a total reconstruction is not necessary in the Francis Marion, where remnants of the historic pine woodlands still exist on 50 percent of the national forest land. “On any given site of the Francis Marion, you can find 30 to 40 percent of the original plant species, and on better sites you can find most of the species. We haven’t lost it all. Most of the plant species are still here.”

Why Restore Longleaf?

Despite all the complications and obstacles, conservationists are determined to restore longleaf to portions of the southeastern coastal plain from Texas to southern Virginia.

In 1995 the Longleaf Alliance, a nonprofit organization, was established to coordinate efforts to retain existing longleaf stands and to restore the ecosystem, particularly on private lands. In the early 1990s, 25 million longleaf seedlings were planted in the Southeast each year; in 1998, this number grew to 80 million seedlings. Still, longleaf plantings fall well behind those of loblolly, which today number one billion annually.

For many private landholders, longleaf’s striking beauty is the reason for preserving it. “It’s a spectacular forest, the most colorful on the East Coast,” says Dana Beach, executive director of the S.C. Coastal Conservation League. “Aesthetics is increasingly a motivation to protect longleaf.”

To others, longleaf represents a fading rural Southern history. “There’s a passion associated with longleaf,” says Gjerstad. “People love it, and one reason is that it provides a link to Southern heritage. It’s a part of our culture.” These forests can also provide a safe source of income for landowners, says Beach. “It provides the best pine timber—nothing else is comparable.” An increasingly strong market exists for this timber, which is used for utility poles and high-quality lumber.

Federal officials seek to restore longleaf for aesthetic, biological, and historical reasons. “We want to be good stewards of the land,” says Wade. “The ecoystems that exist in most places now are different than they were many years ago. And we’d like to get back to the longleaf ecosystem.”

Yet managing the smoke from controlled fires around the Francis Marion is difficult and potentially dangerous. Hurricane Hugo blew down one billion board feet of timber in the forest, and all that dead wood creates extraordinary volumes of smoke when burned.

Firing Line. U.S. Forest Service employees use a Terra torch to set a “back fire,” establishing a buffer of burned woods by a roadway.This buffer helps to contain the rest of the controlled fire. Photo by Wade Spees.

After smoke drifted onto local highways during controlled burns, the Forest Service implemented a special patrol to monitor roads. If smoke endangers motorists, officials can shut a highway or provide alternate routes. Foresters also alert local residents and evacuate people with health problems before burning the woods.

The Endangered Species Act dictates that the Forest Service must manage longleaf ecosystems to protect the bird’s nesting and foraging habitat. So federal officials who manage the national forest must balance their legal requirement to burn the woods with their duties to protect the health and safety of local people. The Forest Service has scaled back burning in some areas near homes and communities, causing a significant decline in woodpecker habitat. Soon, officials say, they will have to start burning again to protect the bird. “We need to get the public ready and mitigate any potential problems,” says Twomey. “But if somebody dies due to smoke, it may come to a court case to decide which areas to burn.”

Private landowners should also be concerned about smoke harming residents nearby. “A lot of landowners don’t worry enough about their smoke management,” says Wade, the fire researcher. “Smoke can cross a highway or affect a hospital or school.”

The larger problem is that too many people are building homes and businesses far into the woods all through the Southeast, environmentalists say. “Longleaf is doomed with so much intrusion of human settlement,” says Beach.

As longleaf forests are restored, clashes are inevitable between landowners and sprawling suburban communities. But if efforts to preserve these ecosystems eventually fail, we would lose the remaining islands of an ancient “fire habitat,” remnants of a cultural/biological landscape that evolved over centuries. During the next few decades, longleaf forests could become extinct or they could remain tiny, threatened islands of this region’s natural history.

Longleaf Ranches

By restoring longleaf forests, resource managers are actually rebuilding the landscape of the Southern cattle ranch.

When European settlers arrived in the American South, they found open pine savannas created by Indians, who annually burned the woods.

“Cattle herders followed old Indian clearings and both maintained and extended them through fire,” noted fire expert Stephen J. Pyne in a 1982 book.

For generations, the English and Scottish settlers fed their livestock in the Southern pinelands, just as their ancestors had grazed their animals on the heaths and oak openings of England and Scotland.

Southern ranchers drove their livestock on long journeys to coastal market cities, just as later Western cattlemen drove their animals to Abilene and Wichita.

In fact, many Southerners who abandoned the region after the Civil War for the frontier took their cattle herding and controlled-fire techniques with them.

It is ironic that today cattle ranches in the American West are often considered environmentally destructive, while the remnants of grazing lands in the Southeast are considered valuable and rare ecosystems, worthy of conservation and restoration.

Oyster Restoration

Sea Grant scientists had to start from scratch when they began studying how to restore South Carolina oyster reefs, which had been previously slighted as an important marine ecosystem and as a subject for research.

“In South Carolina, we have many healthy oyster reefs to learn from,” says Loren Coen, marine ecologist at the S.C. Department of Natural Resources. “But there is not a baseline of knowledge about growth rates and diseases in South Carolina oysters, nor about how natural reefs function and develop. We need to understand these things before we can make recommendations on how to restore these habitats.”

Because stocks of the eastern oyster have declined throughout its range, researchers are attempting to rebuild reef ecosystems in several regions, especially in the Chesapeake Bay. But South Carolina’s reef ecology is much different from that of other oyster-producing regions, says Coen. South Carolina oysters grow high out of the water, for example, so they are exposed at low tide, whereas Chesapeake oysters are totally submerged. Perhaps as a result, local oysters have less exposure to disease, such as MSX and Dermo.

The researchers have built six experimental reefs at two sites at Inlet Creek and Toler’s Cove in Mt. Pleasant. Still, Coen and his colleagues are learning how South Carolina reefs should be restored. “We’re trying to understand the oyster habitat here. We’re starting from scratch because these areas have been studied so little. We have to build a foundation of knowledge before we can address how to restore these important habitats.”

Further Reading

Coates, Peter. Nature: Western Attitudes Since Ancient Times. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998.

Cronon, William. “The Trouble with Wilderness; or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature.” In Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature. Ed. William Cronon. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995.

Jordan, William R III. “‘Sunflower Forest’: Ecological Restoration as the Basis for a New Environmental Paradigm.” In Beyond Preservation: Restoring and Inventing Landscapes. Ed. A. Dwight Baldwin, Jr. et al. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Louks, Orie L. “Art and Insight in Remnant Native Ecosystems.” In Beyond Preservation: Restoring and Inventing Landscapes. Ed. A. Dwight Baldwin, Jr. et al. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1994.

Merchant, Carolyn. “Reinventing Eden: Western Culture as a Recovery Narrative.” In Uncommon Ground: Toward Reinventing Nature. Ed. William Cronon. New York: W.W. Norton, 1995.

Nash, Roderick. Wilderness and the American Mind. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1982.

Pyne, Stephen J. Fire in America: A Cultural History of Wildland and Rural Fire. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1982.

Simpson, John Warfield. Visions of Paradise: Glimpses of Our Landscape’s Legacy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999.

Williams, Michael. Americans and Their Forests. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1989.