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Last month I attended the Conference of Ecological and Ecosystem Restoration in New Orleans to highlight our ecological restoration work in Massachusetts and learn about the practice and state of ecological restoration nation and worldwide. It was eye-opening.

Louisiana Loss of Land; Source: State of the Parish

Louisiana Loss of Land; Source: State of the Parish

While Massachusetts can claim significant success in urban river revitalization, dam removal, cranberry bog naturalization and stream flow restoration, globally there are daunting challenges to restore highly impacted or vanishing ecosystems that will test the acumen of ecologists, engineers and politicians for years to come.

In Louisiana, coastal wetlands within the Mississippi Delta are disappearing due to lack of sediment nourishment at an astonishing rate of a football field an hour – since 1930, 1,900 square miles have been lost. In Alberta, tar sands mining is stripping away vast swaths of boreal wetlands; an estimated 733 square miles of fens alone are slated for tar sands extraction (that’s about the size of Cape Cod). In Kuwait, the United Nations awarded 3 billion dollars to restore groundwater, fresh water aquifers, coastal areas, and desert ecosystems as a result of the damage wrought by the 1990 invasion by Iraq.

In addition to a multitude of historic actions that degrade our ecosystems, climate change is the monkey wrench that disrupts the most ambitious restoration plans. Sea level rise, more extreme floods and longer periods of drought make ecological restoration more challenging, but profoundly necessary to protect public safety.

Panning back to Massachusetts, the long tradition of land conservation and regulatory protection of sensitive ecosystems such as salt marshes, rivers and critical upland habitats, gives us a real advantage when planning to restore ecological integrity and safeguard our environment from extreme weather. While many parts of the world have lost or are rapidly losing their environmental assets, Massachusetts has an opportunity to gain ground and to restore what has been impacted but not lost. This is an advantage many parts of the world may never have.

Written By:


Director, Department of Fish and Game’s Division of Ecological Restoration

Tim Purinton is the Director of the Division of Ecological Restoration in the Department of Fish and Game. Tim was the 2013-2014 recipient of the Governor Bradford Fellowship at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government. Across the great Commonwealth Tim has been seen gunkholing in the Great Marsh and flyfishing the Bash Bish. He lives in Boston, grew up in Newbury and raised his four kids in Ipswich.

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