Restoring the Forest and Ourselves
June 9th, 2023
By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center
RESTOR is a global restoration movement with an inspiring mission: “accelerating the conservation and restoration of nature for the benefit of people, biodiversity, and climate”. RESTOR does this by “connecting people and their projects to resources like scientific data, monitoring tools, funding, and each other to increase impact, scale, and sustainability of these efforts. We believe that anyone can be a restoration champion”.
The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have been restoration champions since 1993 when they were the first landowners in the area to dedicate sixteen acres, the “Missionary Oblates Woods Nature Preserve”, as part of the Illinois Nature Preserve System. In 2001 they added one hundred forty-three acres in the Forest Legacy Program. With this history, OMI has become a member of the RESTOR movement; consequently, it is possible to explore specifics about biodiversity on their land using RESTOR data. On Oblate land in Godfrey, IL, diversity includes 1,409 plant species, 31 amphibian species, 46 mammal species, and 174 bird species. That’s a lot of biodiversity on a little over 250 acres!!!
La Vista’s Monday study group just completed reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, and one of Kimmerer’s insights we loved is appropriate here. She comments that when we think of ecological restoration we think about what we are doing to and for land like invasive species and trash removal, controlled burns, and planting native species which we do at La Vista. However, Kimmerer expands this thinking when she explains that, in the indigenous tradition, when we do ecological restoration we are really restoring ourselves! This must explain why, when volunteers head back to their cars after restoration work, they comment about feeling happy, fulfilled, nourished. It is true. Why else would volunteers drive a distance to get dirty, work hard, and brave tick bites? The principle of reciprocity as at work here! Once again, native people help us with an alternative reality.
Kimmerer also phrases it this way, “Land loves us back”. In the case of preserves, it does this in part by providing a peaceful and healthy environment for those who visit; by increasing wildlife, thus reducing species loneliness and countering biodiversity collapse; by cleaning the watershed, contributing to a healthier Mississippi River for humans and other species.
Truly, ecological restoration is a two-way street, and Pope Francis agrees. In the encyclical Laudato Si’ he shows awareness of this deep connection: “God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement”. The opposite is also a reality – when we help heal damaged land, we are also healed. Healthy people and healthy planet go together.