News & Resources

Courses That Change Your Life: Restoration Ecology (Biol 482)

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Dec 02, 2015

Today there is nowhere on Earth that is not touched by human influence, even in places where humans are rarely, if ever present. Yet climate change affects penguins in Antarctica, toxic wastes reach uninhabited islands, and invasive species spread even in wilderness areas. Never has there been as great a need to understand the theory, obtain the skills and gain the experience needed to restore degraded habitats, re-introduce endangered species, and relieve larger-scale ecological stressors in all of Earth’s ecosystems.

Au Sable’s course in Restoration Ecology addresses these issues and tackles these problems. Set in the natural beauty of Au Sable’s Great Lakes Campus in northern Michigan, Restoration Ecology is perfectly placed to show students the juxtaposition of natural function and beauty with the environmental degradation of both from many causes, and in both short- and long-term perspective. Here in the landscape that once held the greatest pine forests of the Upper Great Lakes region, students can see the historic and continuing effects of degradation on many systems caused by logging over one hundred years past. In present context, students see the actual and potential degradations of current oil and natural gas extraction, urban and suburban development, and recreational use on this landscape. With clear understanding of immediate need, students learn the underlying theory and practical skills needed to restore degraded habitats by reducing erosion, revegetating historic and functionally useful plant cover, removing invasive species, and relocating individuals of critical species.

David Warners, Professor of Biology at Calvin College (Michigan) and Au Sable’s instructor in Restoration Ecology, understands the global context and ecological need for environmental restoration. Because degraded habitats occur worldwide, the skills needed to restore them apply worldwide, although with different contexts and applications. A former missions and development worker with Christian Reformed World Relief Committee in Tanzania, Dave learned firsthand how devastating environmental degradation can be as he witnessed the deforestation of large sections of Tanzania, and saw their subsequent effects. In academia, David earned a Bachelor of Science in Biology from Calvin College, a Master’s in Environmental Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a PhD in Botany, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from the University of Michigan. He has applied his knowledge and skills in environmental restoration at national, regional and local levels, from consultation on Environmental Impact Statements for the US Environmental Protection Agency to advising local township boards on county parks. His current work in restoring Plaster Creek in the Grand Rapids area has drawn national attention, not only because of its effectiveness but because of Dave’s success in involving local churches in the effort. 

With a background that seamlessly combines diverse experience with scientific and professional relevance, Dave Warners can use both knowledge and experience to demonstrate the integration of Christian faith in the scientific study and application of restoration ecology. As Cornerstone University student Deborah Cushman observed during her work in the Restoration Ecology course in 2013, “My favorite part of the class was our restoration project. We collected seeds from many native grasses and Dr. Warners knew which ones were native, non-native, bitter but edible and the delicious. He made sure we all had the opportunity to try most sections of the project but we got to split up by interest and ability. Dr. Warners was willing to help us with any aspect of our class at any point.” 

Today academics, national and local governments, Christian missions and development workers, and a growing industry in environmental remediation and restoration are looking for people with the skills offered in Au Sable’s Restoration Ecology course. Skills in restoration ecology can change the world and Au Sable’s course in Restoration Ecology can change your life.


Restoration Ecology 2016 from Au Sable Institute on Vimeo.