What is ECOLOGICAL RESTORATION?
MRRI's staff follows the Society for Ecological Restoration's definition for ecological restoration in defining the work they aspire to undertake for the Meadowlands - "Ecological restoration is the process of assisting in the recovery of an ecosystem that has been degraded, damaged, or destroyed."
The Meadowlands is defined by its ecosystems - the dynamic plants, animals, and microorganisms that interact with the physical environment - but that physical environment has changed greatly over the last two hundred years. The salinity of the Hackensack River and its adjacent wetlands have changed, the landforms surrounding the river has changed, and the freshwater hydrological inputs into the river has changed. At the same time, many of the wetland, riparian and forested habitats have been developed, contaminated or otherwise degraded over time.
To assist in the recovery of these habitats, we cannot restore them to what they had been historically. Rather, MRRI works to restore the functions and services associated with these lost or degraded habitats, and looks to recreate new habitats that can be used by the abundant wildlife now found in the Meadowlands.
Why do we NEED TO RESTORE HABITAT?
The Meadowlands is an urban coastal district well-defined by the infrastructure that bisects it - the roadways, the rail lines, and the landfills. While millions of people and vehicles flow through the Meadowlands each day, most do not understand this coastal region or its natural assets - the waters, the wetlands and the coastal ecosystems that first defined the area. Despite its urban nature and historical abuses of the wetlands and adjacent open spaces, the Meadowlands still has over 8,000 acres of open space consisting of wetlands, waterways and public parks, and these areas support a remarkable diversity and abundance of fish and wildlife.
But even though the populations of fish and wildlife have grown steadily in the Meadowlands due to its coastal connections and location on the Atlantic Coastal Flyway, much of the breeding habitat for species of concern has been degraded and there is competition for those areas that still do provide breeding habitat.
Short term damage may eventually be restored naturally, but once degradation gains a foothold, ecosystems are often unable to recover without intervention. The intervention that MRRI staff looks to undertake is one of creating the right conditions for recovery, which then allows the ecosystem to naturally heal. The native plants, wildlife and microorganisms must do the long-term work of healing the land, soil, water and air over time.