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Ecosystems & Ecosystem Management

  • Blog Post by: T.R. Michels
  • September 23, 2011 - 5:16 AM

Part of the problem with "the idea of conservation" is that we humans may have begun to realize too late that in order for this planet, and us, to survive, we must conserve, and preserve, much more of the native habitat of the entire world, than we ever realized - until just the last century, after much of the important and needed habitat has already been destroyed - by us. We need to look at not only saving a particular wildlife or plant species, but saving the surrounding habitat and other species that are all dependent on each other for survival and reproduction.

What is an Ecosystem?

In recent years conservationists have begun to realize that in order to properly maintain and manage wildlife habitat, they need to look beyond just the immediate area or species of concern, to a much broader area, in which the microbes, animals, plants, and geology of the habitat interact as an entire system, that interacts within itself.

The Glossary of Forestry Terms for the Province of British Columbia defines an ecosystem as "a functional unit consisting of all the living organisms (plants, animals, and microbes) in a given area, and all the non-living physical and chemical factors of their environment, linked together through nutrient cycling and energy flow. An ecosystem can be of any size-a log, pond, field, forest, or the earth's biosphere - but it always functions as a whole unit"

Most Americans are familiar with the term "Yellowstone Ecosystem" which the US Government uses to define the interaction of microbes, plants and animals of the area surrounding Yellowstone Park. This area encompasses not only the caldera or crater of the Yellowstone volcano, but also stretches of the Bechler, Fall, Firehole, Gallatin, Gardiner, Gibbon, Lamar, Lewis, and Yellowstone rivers. One of the original descriptions of the "ecosystem" of Yellowstone took into account the range of the endangered grizzly bear. The Yellowstone Ecosystem was later defined as the range of the cutthroat trout in the area, and later still to the range of the antelope, bison, elk, whitebark pine and other species - until the ecosystem has grown to what it is today, a large part of northwestern Wyoming, and smaller parts of southern Montana and eastern Idaho.

One definition of ecosystem management was expressed by J. Stan Rowe in 1992. "Ecosystem management is the application of the ecosystem approach in the conservation, management, and restoration of regional and local landscape ecosystems. It means that everyone attends to the conservation and sustainability of ecosystems, instead of sharply focusing on the productivity of individual or competing resources -- which has been our traditional mode of operation." An ecosystem can be as small as a backyard or small watershed, or as large as the planet earth.

What is Eco System Management?

Ecosystem management can be defined as the integration of ecological, social, and economic objectives for natural resource planning and management. The key to this "definition" lies in defining the objectives that are being integrated into the management plan. The ecological objectives of ecosystem management should address the conservation, preservation, maintenance and/or enhancement of biological diversity and ecosystem integrity; as a whole

Biological diversity is the variety of life and life processes, and includes the levels of landscape, community, species, and genetics. "Ecosystem integrity" is a related term, operating at the community and landscape levels, that addresses the ecological processes that are needed for ecosystems to function in a predictable manner. The focus of ecosystem management on integration of these ecological objectives with the best efforts of the social and economic objectives is what separates if from other natural resource management practices.

Special interest groups (hunters, fishermen, birders, wildflower enthusiasts, butterfly enthusiasts) often adopt narrow and polarized views on resource issues. When this occurs, both human interests and the natural resources can be, and often are, threatened. The spotted owl and the timber industry controversy in the Pacific Northwest forests, the agricultural interests and Everglades restoration/preservation debate in Florida, and the re-introduction of wolves to the yellow system are examples of this.

In the past conservationists and resource managers have recognized the need for a new and different approach to habitat and wildlife management. This approach calls for participation between what may be widely diverse groups, so differences can be resolved, problems can be solved, and long-term care of our natural resources can be implemented, which hopefully will lead to a focus on management strategies commonly referred to as "ecosystem management." The implementation of this new "ecosystem management" based strategy is not yet completely defined, but the shift in why and how natural resources should be managed is beginning to take shape, and it can have beneficial and far-reaching effects for all outdoor lovers.

Ecosystem management is looking at a larger picture than we have looked at before. We need to look beyond municipal, county, state and federal agency boundaries, and work closely with land managers, in both the public and private sectors. We need to address the short and long-term consequences of our decisions, and consider every resource, such as plant communities, wildlife communities, watersheds and, geology as connected parts of a system, rather than as individual parts of the eco-system to be managed separately. Eco-system management means being aware of all of the parts of the ecosystem, from local and national, to international and even global aspects.
 

The choices conservationists and land managers have to make won't go away. However, a fundamental principle of ecosystem management holds that decisions must be based on the best information science can provide, with sustainability as the goal. This framework provides a means to evaluate objectively the trade-off of different management choices.
More than just federal lands are at stake. We all live in ecosystems of multiple ownership, and the issues addressed on federal lands exist elsewhere. Everyone has a stake in working for diverse, healthy, sustainable ecosystems, and its going to take everyone's support and participation to make it all work.

 

Next time you are out birding, on a nature  hike, hunting or just walking - bring along a couple of plastic bags, and maybe a backpack. When you see trash, that someone else left, don't just walk by it, pick it up and carry it out. If we all contribute, we can make our "wild" places more wild. 

God bless,

 

T.R.  

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