III.

Science – Natural Systems Ecosystem-Based Management
A. Definition and Purpose
Ecosystem-based management is truly about combining our understanding and thinking of natural systems with human-created institutions. This is very much a primer on how to use information about natural systems and apply that information to a process (framework) that inculcates natural system elements into decision-making. The key to understanding this management process may best be seen by revisiting the figure from the text describing an ecosystem-based management process:

The purpose of the management process outlined above is to allow for learning to occur as a means of managing natural systems. Recall that natural systems are dynamic, meaning they are constantly in a state of change (although the upper and lower limits of those changes cancel out over time to create an equilibrium state).1 The dynamic nature of systems can influence a management plan by altering some of the assumptions inherent in the plan. As a simplified example, fisheries management generally includes setting a limit of allowable catch (quota) each season. The quota established is usually
1

This is where statistics is helpful in understanding the concept of averages and variation from the mean. An equilibrium state is the average background condition of the natural system. When the system is stressed beyond a threshold, then it is possible for the system to move to a new background average, a new equilibrium state (see, that stats course does have application after all!).

based on actual sampling of the target fish population and the utilization of statistics to make an informed guess about the total population (we actually never know the real total population – our estimate is based on reasonable assumptions attached to actual catches of the species). This informed guess is then used to establish a catch limit. Even if we assumed all of our information and assumptions were correct, the dynamic characteristic of natural systems means some of those assumptions can change over time. For example, there may be a new disease of fin rot that appears in the target species of fish in a particular season, causing a significant portion of the population to die off due to the new disease. The disease (an example of a dynamic interaction) alters our original management plan by changing the total population of fish presumed, thus likely affecting our set catch limit. When this new information becomes available to those creating the management plan learning occurs, and this learning then sets the stage for changing the management plan – adapting management to the newly learned information. The point in the preceding example can be summarized as follows: • • Dynamic natural systems are subject to change at any time. Because of the constant of change, management styles also need to be capable of change to keep up with the natural system changes; management styles need to be adaptive. Adaptive management techniques include a process that allows for new information to be immediately ‘ingested’ into the decision-making process. The ingestion of the new information informs the management process in order to meet the original goals of the policy.

B. Role in Environmental Management
From a larger perspective, ecosystem-based management allows for a management philosophy (including the development and implementation of policy goals) that provides for the internalization of natural system values, including the provisioning, regulating, and cultural services mentioned in the previous section. Assume the fin rot disease mentioned earlier was caused by bacteria, and the bacteria was in particularly high concentrations because of nutrient runoff from nearby farms thus causing the outbreak in the target fish population. Assume further the nutrient runoff used to be neutralized by a saltwater marsh (wetland) that was filled in for a residential development project; the marsh would filter out the nutrients and stabilize them in the marsh environment before they escaped into the open waters. Now with these assumptions we can identify the following services: • The target fish species is a provisioning service that is directly used by humans for consumption. Once captured, the fish species is openly sold and resold in a market system. Thus, the direct value of the fish species is relatively easy to identify.

The agricultural practices on the farm are also provisioning services; land that was once in a ‘natural’ state has been altered to grow produce and other product for human consumption. To enhance growing rates and product yield, fertilizer (nutrients) is spread on the field. The products yielded on the farm are regularly sold in market systems, thus the direct value of the agricultural practice can be ascertained. The salt marsh (wetland) is a regulating service; one of the regulating services provided by the wetland was to filter out nutrient runoff from nearby farms thus preventing the nutrients from causing bacteria blooms and, in this case, fin rot. This is one example of how the salt marsh provided indirect services to the commercial fishing industry. Land transition from salt marsh to residential development is a provisioning service in the same way that land transitioned to agricultural use (described above).

It is likely the value of the salt marsh as a contributor to the health of the commercial fish population was unknown. However, it is a fact that that salt marsh contributed to the health of the commercial fish species. The value of the marsh then can be indirectly calculated by the value of the commercial fish lost to the fin rot disease.2 From an ecosystem-based management perspective a few points can be highlighted: • Like the assumption about biodiversity, we can assume that ecosystems – including parts of ecosystems – are contributors to the overall health and wellbeing of the natural system. Because components of the system may be critical in helping to maintain the integrity of the larger system, a presumption that everything natural is important may not be an unreasonable assumption to start from when engaging in environmental policy. Under an assumption that everything is important, a precautionary approach may be a superior starting point for any environmental policy. Adaptive management techniques are an essential process-orientated means of internalizing the presumption of ecosystem value and working with precaution because the policy technique is meant to change based on the assumption that nature will constantly be evolving and ‘telling’ us more about how it helps to provide us with valuable services (ala Costanza).

• •

2

Note: this is just one of the values the salt marsh provided, there likely are many other regulating services it provided as well.

C. Examples of Ecosystem-Based Management
One of the main points being made in this section is the following: information is power. This is particularly true in ecosystem-based management because, if you recall, the technique relies on a consistent flow of information to inform managers and allow for the adaptation of practices to meet new information. Remember, ecosystem-based management is an adaptive management technique that follows a natural systems principle including the assumption that nature is dynamic and thus always changing. Thus, the management technique employed must also be dynamic in its operation and implementation. The driver of the dynamic nature of ecosystem-based management is constantly updated information. There are a few points to make about the concept of information as described above. The fact is not all information is created equal, and in the world of ecosystem-based management some information is more valuable than other kinds of information. For example, objective forms of information that follows the scientific method (observational information) tends to provide better forms of information about the natural environment. If ecosystem-based management techniques are geared towards understanding the background conditions of the natural environment (and how they might be changing), then objective information about those background conditions is superior in helping to adapt the management to the actual conditions presented. Beyond objective information about the natural environment, information about human interactions is also critical, including some understanding of the dynamics surrounding the sharing of information. The example provided in the text on the nearshore fishery (sea urchin, albacore, and lobster) is an example of the dynamics involved in managing the sharing of human-based information (local knowledge and the incentives that drive the withholding or sharing of that information). This is a different kind of information from the science-based objective information described earlier. In the reading we can see clearly how the sharing of information between the resource users can yield a more optimal outcome for all of the users and the resources impacted under the right conditions. From a management (policy) perspective, the job is to understand the particular dynamics involved in the disclosure and sharing of such information, and develop management techniques that minimize individual incentives not to share while maximizing collective incentives to disclose and share this information. The readings posted to supplement the text materials (McGuire 2011, McGuire 2012) are meant to highlight the following two aspects of information in ecosystem-based management: • • The objective information that helps us understand natural systems through techniques that follow the scientific method; and The more human-based information that affects the capacity of both mangers (policy developers) and resource users to effectively understand the human dynamics behind resource allocation and utilization.

In the first reading on Information Processing Theory (McGuire 2011) I discuss how following the dynamics of information flows can aid in better understanding how that information is being utilized (or marginalized) in order to aid in achieving policy goals. The second reading on Public Policy Frameworks in Environmental Settings helps provide an understanding of how environmental issues – particularly the use of objective information – creates special requirements when thinking about policy directions (essentially arguing for the need to have adaptable ecosystem-based management frameworks). Both pieces are meant to provide a deeper understanding of ecosystembased management in the context of thinking about information flows and establishing policy frameworks that support the inculcation of new and meaningful information. Through the readings one can begin to see some of the obstacles that can arise in developing and implementing an ecosystem-based management policy approach. These obstacles include institutional barriers (both intentional and unintentional) to the flow of information, as well as barriers created by participants in the policy issue (both participants in the policy arena and users of the resource under consideration). A visual representation of the categories of information described above follows:

By utilizing this figure we can recall the general categories of information available for use in ecosystem-based management, which can help us as we attempt to decipher the issues presented in identifying environmental problems and formulating policy responses to those problems. Remember, information (in its various forms) really is a driver of ecosystem-based management as a policy process that incorporates both background natural systems understanding (what is nature doing, how it is responding to specific stimuli, etc.) and an understanding of how human dynamics are influencing potential

policy directions. The next section in our work will help to provide us with a better understanding of systems thinking (understanding the natural systems part of the information). Later work in economics and values will help us better understand the human dynamics aspect of information inputs into the process of environmental policy. END OF SECTION.

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