The Global Change Center's Restoration Ecology Working Group hosted the Ecological and Biocultural Restoration Summit at the University Club in Blacksburg, Virginia, on April 12, 2024. This all-day event brought together a diverse array of participants eager to engage in meaningful dialogue and exploration of restoration challenges and opportunities.

Led by Dr. Leighton Reid, the Restoration Ecology Working Group (REWG) has been dedicated to exploring effective strategies for restoring biodiversity and enhancing environmental quality on local, regional, and global scales. Central to their mission is the recognition of ecological restoration's potential to combat climate change, prevent mass extinction events, and provide crucial ecosystem services to societies worldwide. However, they also acknowledge the need to tread carefully, mindful of the potential for restoration efforts to exacerbate existing social inequalities if not executed thoughtfully.

The full-day summit served as a gathering point to expand on these efforts, focusing on making large-scale ecological restoration more equitable, as well as efforts to build up student training programs in Ecological Restoration at Virginia Tech. Attendees included faculty, administrators, graduate and undergraduate students, and regional partners.

Hunter Talk
Dominique Daye Hunter graciously stepped in to present at the summit on behalf of Alexa Sutton Lawrence, the lead convener of Indigenous East, who, though present, had lost her voice due to illness. Dominique serves as the program manager for Indigenous East, a project under The Landberry Foundation, where she is working to establish a cohesive network of Indigenous-led protected areas across the eastern United States.

Included in the day’s agenda were morning plenary speakers Dominique Daye Hunter, the Program Manager for Indigenous East, and Marcus Briggs-Cloud, the  co-director of Ekvn-Yefolecv. Both speakers offered unique perspectives on Indigenous-led restoration initiatives and highlighted the importance of integrating Indigenous knowledge and values into restoration practices.

Briggs-Cloud Talk
Marcus Briggs-Cloud was the Indigenous Fellow in Residence for Spring 2024 as part of the Community, Agency & Engagement for Native Students project at Virginia Tech. He helped to co-found Ekvn-Yefolecv, an off-grid, climate-positive ecovillage composed of Indigenous Maskoke People.

Throughout the summit, attendees engaged in discussions and breakout activities, facilitated by Interfaces of Global Change Alum, Dr. Caleb O’Brien, aimed at addressing key challenges and opportunities in ecological restoration. Breakout sessions covered a wide range of topics, from discussions on equity in restoration practices to sessions working toward enhancing student training in ecological restoration at Virginia Tech. Afternoon flash talks provided a platform for participants to showcase ongoing research and projects within the Virginia Tech & Blacksburg community, demonstrating the breadth and depth of restoration-related work being conducted across various disciplines.

One activity involved participants placing stickers in their respective areas of research, aimed at identifying existing strengths and expertise gaps within the university. This initiative seeks to pinpoint areas where additional knowledge and resources are needed to enhance research capabilities and academic offerings, as well as existing assets that can be leveraged for ecological restoration.

The afternoon breakout sessions worked to lay the groundwork for enhancing and establishing premier training programs in ecological restoration at Virginia Tech. These programs will provide students with advanced training and mentorship, empowering them to become leaders and innovators in the field. Ultimately, graduates of this program will be equipped to drive transformative restoration initiatives worldwide.

This impactful event was made possible with support from the Global Change Center and the Institute for Society, Culture, and Environment via a GCC-ISCE Seed Grant. By bringing together leaders, practitioners, and scholars from diverse backgrounds, the summit helped to produce a trove of ideas about how to do large-scale restoration equitably, what skills and knowledge are needed, and what strengths and weaknesses we have in our community for addressing these challenges.

Want to join? Learn more about the Restoration Ecology Working Group.