Linking Environmental Protection and the Human Economy


Historically, the typical human approach to ecosystems has been to attempt simplification

Natural communities are not inherently simple: complex interactions drive very complex dynamics

Even monotypic stands of early-successional species are too complex for us to predict or model

Why have we tried to simplify nature?

Limitations of the human brain, and simple mgmt. objectives (max. forage for livestock or max. wood production for a growing nation)

It is easy, but inappropriate, to blame past managers

Food and fiber production are still (and will continue to be) a primary "use" of natural communities (world population growth = nearly 75 million people/yr added to planet)

Public and professional perception of environmental protection are strongly influenced by:

  1. "food and fiber" production objectives have dominated management of many acres

  2. the public and even other professionals have not understood ecosystem dynamics and the importance of manipulating ecosystems to achieve non-production objectives

Social values are changing rapidly--faster than trees grow!

Similarly, options for future flexibility should be incorporated into management plans:

e.g., encourage natural resource managers to understand that biodiversity is always an important objective (not a constraint)

biodiversity was suddenly thrust into the arena for natural resource practitioners, and it is viewed as either a primary focus of management or a threat

There are good reasons to increase diversity (e.g., economic and environmental benefits in the US are estimated at $300 billion/year; Pimentel et al. 1997, cited below)

There are specific steps to increase diversity in communities managed for multiple use (adapted from Burton et al. 1992, cited below):

  1. take inventory

  2. identify several appropriate management units

  3. establish and monitor benchmarks

  4. promote diversity in artificially established stands (multiple species, and multiple genotypes within species)

  5. explore alternatives (constantly push the envelope imposed by traditional vegetation managers)

  6. reflect before acting

In addition, you can help society set its objectives by providing clear information on tradeoffs associated with various scenarios

Blindly implementing mgmt. plans, without questioning the assumptions and tradeoffs, is no longer sufficient (perhaps it never was)

Administrative structures are changing to reflect changing social values

One goal of most mgmt efforts should be sustainable management of ecosystem processes

Producing one or a few products for human consumption should be a natural side-effect of appropriate management

This, according to most proponents, is the goal of "Ecosystem Management"--to sustain ecosystem processes, with "products" as by-products of that management

Can this work?

Ultimately, humanity must answer the question about sustainability

Additional Information (also see assigned readings):

Burton, P.J., Balisky, A.C., Coward, L.P., Cumming, S.G., and Kneeshaw, D.D. 1992. The value of managing for biodiversity. Forestry Chronicle 68:225-237.

Callicott, J.B. and Mumford, K. 1997. Ecological sustainability as a conservation concept. Conservation Biology 11:32-40.

Chua, A. (2003) World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability. Doubleday, New York.

Florini, A. (2003) The Coming Democracy: New Rules for Running a New World. Island Press, Washington, D.C.

Mason, C. (2003) The 2030 Spike: Countdown to Global Catastrophe. Earthscan Publications, London.

Pew Oceans Commission, 2003, Americas Living Oceans: Charting a Course for Sea Change. Pew Charitable Trusts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Pimentel, D., Wilson, C., McCullum, C., Huang, R., Dwen, P., Flack, J., Tran, Q., Saltman, T., and Cliff, B. 1997. Economic and environmental benefits of biodiversity. BioScience 47:747-757.

Toman, M.A. and Ashton, P.M.S. 1996. Sustainable forest ecosystems and management: a review article. Forest Science 42:366-377.

U.S. Census Bureau. href="">World Population Information.