Environmental Management in Practice: Managing the Ecosystem - Vol. 3

Environmental Management in Practice: Managing the Ecosystem - Vol. 3

Environmental Management in Practice: Managing the Ecosystem - Vol. 3

Environmental Management in Practice: Managing the Ecosystem - Vol. 3


This volume of Environmental Management focuses on those ecosystems in which human intervention has been or continues to be predominant, specifically within cities and rural areas.


Richard J. Huggett and Paul A. Compton

Human civilisations have always ‘managed’ ecosystems to a greater or lesser degree. Before the eighteenth century, humankind tended to take a responsible attitude towards Nature (see Merchant, 1982; Sheldrake, 1990). The rise of a mechanistic world-view bred an exploitative attitude, at least in the western world and its fast-growing colonies. Ecosystem riches were plundered profligately, with little heed to conservation or sustainability. The result was an unprecedented transformation of the biosphere, a radical shift in land cover. Dissenting voices against the rape of the Earth first cried out during the second half of the nineteenth century. However, only since 1945, with the rise of modern environmentalism, has a large body of people spoken with one voice to demand the judicious use of ecosystems.

Modern views on ecosystem management evolved largely in response to the current biodiversity crisis. Biodiversity provided a new rallying point in an ecological world that late twentieth-century theorists had shown to be largely chaotic and unpredictable. Nature may have disturbing, perverse and unpredictable ways, and an abiding ability to evade our understanding, but it is gloriously diverse and still needs our love, our respect, and our help (cf. Worster, 1994:420). By the late 1980s, an ecosystem approach to land management was advocated by many scientists and other people interested in the environment (e.g. Agee and Johnson, 1988). Its ultimate aim is to enhance and to ensure the diversity of species, communities, ecosystems and landscapes.


Ecosystem management is now a much used term. But what does it mean?

This question is surprisingly difficult to answer. About all that may be said with confidence is that ecosystem management is not the traditional model of resource management. Traditional resource management lays emphasis on maximising production of goods and services through sustained yield from balanced ecosystems. It gives much credence to utilitarian values that regard human consumption as the best use of resources, and that hold a continuous supply of goods for human markets as the purpose of resource management (Cortner and Moote, 1994). This blatant ‘resourcism’ is patently flawed. It fails to recognise limits to exploitation and, in consequence, a growing number of species, and even entire ecosystems, are currently endangered. But, flawed or not, it persists: even now, ecosystems are viewed by some as long-lived, multi-product factories (Gottfried, 1992), or, if you prefer, as Nature’s superstores.

Ecosystem management, though not universally welcomed, is a new and emerging model of resource management. Some of its advocates see their endeavours as an extension of multiple use, sustained yield policies (e.g. Kessler et al., 1992). They prosecute a stewardship approach, in which the ecosystem is seen merely as a human life-support system. In this view, public demands for habitat protection, recreation and wildlife uses are simply seen as constraints to maximising resource output (Cortner and Moote, 1994). A more radical approach, which seems to be making headway in discussions of ecosystem management, is to accept Nature on its own terms, even

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