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Morley Medalist highlights the value of ecological restoration
Posted 03/06/2013 10:00AM

Dr. Andre Clewell '52, in blue coat, leads a hike through the Cuyahoga Vallay National Park.

The value of ecological restoration – both economically and morally – was the focus of Dr. Andre Clewell’s Morley Medal presentation on Feb. 8 in the Chapel.

“We must sustain nature because nature sustains us,” said Clewell, a member of WRA’s Class of 1952. “We often get away from nature and don’t realize how much we rely on nature for our economy.”

In his presentation, Ecological Restoration: Restoring our Values; Sustaining Ourselves, Clewell highlighted the four values that are fulfilled by restoring a damaged ecosystem – personal, ecological, cultural and socio-economic – and cited several examples to illustrate his point:

  • Ecological value through protecting a region’s biodiversity, such as an elephant sanctuary in India where native grasses were re-introduced so the elephants would have a proper source of nutrition.
  • Socio-economic value through restoring water recharge areas, such as the one that provides water to Panama City, Fla., or the Working for Water program in South Africa.
  • Cultural value by increasing ecological literacy, such as student groups working on restoration projects.
  • Personal value through restoration projects in response to an environmental crisis, such as when a citizen group in Tampa Bay, Fla., planted trees to combat an increase in carbon dioxide from the nearby airport, or when 120 communities from both sides of the Alexander River that runs between Israel and Palestine worked together to restore the polluted river.

A self-employed consultant, Clewell is a research associate with the Tall Timbers Research Station & Land Conservancy organization near Tallahassee, Fla. In addition, he is an adjunct scientist, specializing in tidal marsh ecology, at the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Fla.

During his presentation Clewell shared with students some specific projects he has worked on, including a damaged wet prairie in coastal Mississippi that was restored in just four years, and a former mining area in Florida that took 17 years to restore to its natural state.

“It is in our best interests to reciprocate and sustain nature,” Clewell said. “That is why we must restore degraded ecosystems.”

In addition to this all-school presentation, Clewell spent time with students studying environmental science and taught Jenn Rinehart’s AP Environmental Science classes, where he talked about the restoration work done in the longleaf pine community in Savannah, Ga.

“I truly enjoyed working and teaching with Dr. Clewell this week, both in the classroom and on the trail,” Rinehart said. “Our students are often convinced that the only important environmental issues are those they are hearing about ‘right now.’ They are focused on the buzz about climate change, fracking and recycling. While these issues are indeed vastly important, they represent only a smaller fraction of the greater challenge inherent in wise use and conservation of the Earth’s ecosystems. Humans have studied the world around them for centuries, and Dr. Clewell showed us how piecing together the history of one landscape can teach us volumes about land management.

“I don’t think my students quite understood how excited I was to hear Dr. Clewell’s story. I spent many years wandering about longleaf pine stands searching for gopher tortoise and red cockaded woodpeckers in Georgia and South Carolina. Seeing his pictures brought back many great memories.”

Clewell closed out the week by joining a hike through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park with a group of students, Rinehart and Curt Van Blarcum, WRA’s Director of Grounds.

“In an era of global accelerated ecologic change and destruction we will find, as stewards of this planet, it will become increasingly important to restore the natural systems that mankind has extensively altered,” Van Blarcum said. “Even with unique concepts of national parks that have been set aside for wildlife and pure conservation, there is much deterioration within these ‘protected parks’ that will need human science and ecologic restoration techniques so they may sustain the fragile plant and animal communities they support.

“As the rest of the planet, outside of national parks and protected lands, becomes more urbanized, the planet will be healthier ecologically, socially and economically if there are people like Dr. Clewell involved in oversight, design and implementation. Even as a senior conservationist, Dr. Clewell continues to engage people of all walks of life about the need to be aware of the natural systems that support our planet and people alike. We clearly need more ‘down to earth’ people and scientists like Dr. Clewell.”

For Clewell, the opportunity to give back to WRA, where his father, Ralph, was head of WRA’s Music Department, his mother, Beulah, was the secretary in the Music Department, and his sister-in-law, Peggy, worked in the campus bookstore for several years, was a special one.

“Teaching for 10 hours in the classroom was a hugely rewarding experience for me,” he said. “I felt the satisfaction of giving something back to the school that was special and highly personal.

“Reserve remains a vibrant campus bristling with activities and superior instructions, and it richly deserves our continuing support. And the campus landscaping has never been so beautiful.”

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