The Ecological Health Network – A Brief History

James Aronson is a restoration ecologist and longtime member of the Society for Ecological Restoration. In the fall of 2016, following 30 years of academic and applied work on various aspects of ecological restoration, he moved from the CEFE, CNRS Ecology Lab in Montpellier, France, back to the United States, where he joined the Missouri Botanical Garden's Center for Conservation and Sustainable Development, and now holds the position of Emeritus Senior Scientist. In late 2017, each with a sense of urgency to address the crises threatening life on Earth, James joined economist Neva Goodwin and engineer Laura Orlando to form the Steering Committee of what is now the Ecological Health Network (EHN).

The Committee met numerous times, and communicated non-stop between meetings, to define and write up the objectives of EHN. The process turned up many wonderful discoveries, communities, and friendships. The group committed to building a global action network to rapidly expand restoration activities and projects, while strengthening restoration's engagement with soil health, public health, and cities.

EHN reached several milestones in 2019: establishing our website, holding a public meeting in St. Louis to officially launch EHN and hosting our first international workshop at the Missouri Botanical Garden to bring together people engaged with restoration ecology, soil science, climate change, and public health, all feeling the same sense of urgency that started EHN.

In 2020, James traveled to Australia to meet with EHN site representatives and Hub leaders. He participated in the EHN-sponsored workshop in Hobart, Tasmania, which drew inspiration and insight from restoration and research underway across the North and South Islands of Aotearoa/New Zealand, Tasmania, and the Australian mainland. Out of this came the Four Islands EcoHealth Network– the first Regional EcoHealth Network. We hired our first Science Director, Adam Cross, holder of a research fellowship at Curtin University and Restoration Manager for Gelganyem Limited, an indigenous trust aspiring to return ecologically and culturally resilient landscapes to the Traditional Owners of the East Kimberley region in Western Australia. Meanwhile, our network of hubs and sites actively doing ecological restoration work continued to expand.

In 2022 James, Neva, Laura, and Adam traveled to Finland for EHN's first European Workshop. The workshop was held at the historic Qvidja Farm and hosted by Saara Kankaan­rinta and Ilkka Herlin, Qvidja co-owners and co-founders of the BSAG Found­ation, Soilfood Oy and Q Power.

What's ahead?

EHN will be active in the United Nation's Decade on Ecosystem Restoration (2021-2030) in a number of ways. Stay tuned! We plan to engage more restoration hubs and sites to join our efforts, and add affiliated groups and individuals to our membership. We will launch an interactive, online platform to supercharge these relationships, strengthen and expand the science supporting ecological restoration and its connection to improved public health and climate change amelioration, and increase the public's understanding of the critical importance and immense possibilities of ecological restoration. Concurrently, we will strengthen the EcoHealth Network's institutional infrastructure so that we can work with our partners to move fast and effectively to restore degraded land and aquatic ecosystems. Together we can shift to a restorative culture.