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Desert Restoration


Deserts and drylands appear to be rough and tough but are very fragile. Extreme temperatures, intense sunlight, limited rainfall, and low fertility make natural recovery of these areas very slow after disturbance. Conditions suitable for plant establishment occur only infrequently. It may take hundreds of years for recovery to take place without active intervention. Understanding the nature of the history of the site and the changes that have taken place is critical. Soil treatment with pitting or roughening the surface can help and is often all that can be done. Seeding with locally collected native plants is not cheap and will often fail completely. Container planting with irrigation is even more costly but can be the key to starting recovery. 


Restoration, revegetation, assisted natural regeneration, site history, desertification, plant establishment invasive plants, groundwater, soil treatment, nitrogen pollution, integrated disturbance, container production, root growth, rainwater harvesting, irrigation, islands of fertility, mycorrhizal fungi, nitrogen fixing bacteria, inoculation, ants, termites, rabbits, flash flooding, microclimate, anatomy of desert destruction


✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2008. Desert restoration. PPT

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2021. Assisted Natural Regeneration for Semi-arid and Arid Lands. PPT

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2007. A Guide for Desert and Dryland Restoration: New Hope for Arid Lands. Island Press, Washington, DC. 391 p. (book reviews)

✱Lovich, J. and D. A. Bainbridge 1999. Anthropogenic degradation of the Southern California desert ecosystem and prospects for natural recovery and restoration. Environmental Management. 24(3):309-326.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2021. Understanding integrated disturbance. 9th World Conference on Ecological Restoration, Quebec. June 23, 2021 Supplemental material for presentation. 6 p.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2004. The anatomy, physiology, psychology and economics of desert destruction and restoration. Mojave Desert Science Symposium, University of Redlands. 7 p.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 1997. Lessons from the Tumbleweed Centennial. pp. 16-20. In Lovich, J., J. Randall, and M. Kelly, eds. Proceedings California Exotic Pest Plant Council Symposium-Volume 2.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 1997. The nitrogen pollution problem. Ecesis. The Newsletter of the Society for Ecological Restoration, California Section. 7(3):3-4.

Selected papers and reports — technique



Techniques for desert restoration have been tested and some have worked well. Soil treatment, water harvesting, mulch, seeding and container planting can work. Irrigation is almost always required and the most efficient systems should be considered.


✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2013. Site assessment. PPT

✱Bainbridge, D. A. and J. Perkins. 2020. Remote site irrigation. PPT

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2014. Inoculation response by irrigation system type for desert tree establishment. Tree Planter’s Notes. Fall. 57(2):44-52.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2014. Soil penetrometer. Restoration Notes. 2(3):1-3

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2014. Infiltrometers for restoration site evaluation. Restoration Notes. 2(4):1-6

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2007. How historians can assist environmental restoration projects. American Society for Environmental History News. 2007:3, Fall. 1 p.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2006. Beyond drip irrigation – hyper efficient irrigation systems. Proceedings American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineering Annual International Meeting, Portland, Oregon. ASABE #062073. St. Joseph, Michigan 10 p.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. and L. Heffernan. 1999. Natural materials for erosion control. Proceedings 1st Regional Conference on Erosion and Sediment Control. Western Chapter, International Erosion Control Association, San Diego 8 p.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 1999. Soil pitting for revegetation. Land and Water. 43(1):30-32.

✱Fidelibus, M., L. Lippitt and D. A. Bainbridge. 1994. Native seed collection, processing and storage. Restoration Ecology. 2(2):120-131. 

✱Lippitt, L. A.and D. A. Bainbridge 1993. Three quick seed evaluation methods. Restoration and Management Notes. 11(2):172.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 1994. Container optimization: field data support innovation. pp. 99-104. In Proceedings of the Western Forest and Conservation Nursery Association Meeting, Moscow, ID. USDA Forest Service. Rocky Mountain Forest and Range Experiment Station, Ft. Collins, CO GTR-RM#257.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 1990. Soil solarization for restorationists. Restoration and Management Notes. 8(2):96-98.

Selected projects and guidance



Reviewing the techniques used locally or in other areas with similar soil and climate is a good first step. Understanding the history of the site and the changes that have taken place is critical. It is important to consider what is already known, rather than simply charging ahead with a costly program that may fail completely. 


✱Bainbridge, D. A. and J. C. Tizler. 2014. Restoring mesquite mounds (nebkhas) in the Colorado Desert. Restoration Research Project Note 2(1):1-29.  

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 2012. Restoration of arid and semi-arid lands. Chapter 10, pp. 103-114. In van Andel, J. and Aronson, J. (eds), Restoration Ecology: The New Frontier, 2nd edition, Blackwell Publishing Ltd, Oxford UK.

✱Edwards, F., D. A. Bainbridge, T. A. Zink and M. F. Allen. 2000. Rainfall catchments improve survival of container transplants at Mojave Desert site. Ecological Restoration. 18(2):100-103. 

✱ Bainbridge, D. A., M. Allen, J. Ekhoff, R. MacAller, S. Eliason, J. Tiszler, S. Netto, D. Amme, D. Sly, K. Miller. 1996. Erosion control in a highly disturbed grassland. Poster at the Society for Ecological Restoration Annual Meeting. Rutgers, NJ. 9 p.

✱Bainbridge, D. A. 1993. Restoration Plan for the Ant Hill, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. S.D.S.U. Biology/State Parks. 90 p.

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