Ecological restoration aims to reverse the losses of biodiversity and the degradation of ecosystems that have occurred through time as humans have affected landscapes. To date, however, restoration success has been limited, in spite of increasing ecological knowledge and technical skills. Technical constraints, although significant, are only part of the problem. The reasons for restoration failure, including cost constraints, limitations in land allocation; and insufficient time and labor, often involve underlying human obstacles. Unless such obstacles are overcome, ongoing commitment to restoration projects will likely remain limited. Because restoration involves diverse scientific and social interests and is often laden with conflicting priorities, we view it as a 'wicked problem.' We examine ways commitment to restoration could be increased by developing beneficial relationships between humans and the natural environment in the context of restoration. We propose a model that shows that the ecological needs of the restoration area have the greatest potential to be met when human contributions are greatest. In turn, humans benefit increasingly as the restored ecosystem recovers. As human needs are addressed over time, their potential contributions to the restoration area increase. The extent to which contributions meet needs is enhanced or constrained by factors ranging from available technology and funding to community support. This ongoing loop of interactions between needs and contributions provides a basis for restoration planning and implementation which potentially reduces both ecological and human roadblocks to success. The model suggests that community-based projects will be most successful when experts train the group in restoration decision making, when expertise and leadership are developed within the group, and when participants experience group cohesiveness and a sense of personal reward.