A general model is presented describing ecosystem degradation to help decide when restoration, rehabilitation, or reallocation should be the preferred response. The latter two pathways are suggested when one or more “thresholds of irreversibility” have been crossed in the course of ecosystem degradation, and when “passive” restoration to a presumed predisturbance condition is deemed impossible. The young but burgeoning field of ecological restoration, and the older field of rehabilitation and sustainable range management of arid and semiarid lands (ASAL), are found to have much in common, especially compared with the reallocation of lands, which is often carried out without reference to pre-existing ecosystems. After clarifying some basic terminology, we present 18 vital ecosystem attributes for evaluating stages of degradation and planning experiments in the restoration or rehabilitation of degraded ecosystems. Finally, we offer 10 hypotheses concerning ecological restoration and rehabilitation as they apply to ASAL and perhaps to all terrestrial ecosystems.