Seven pillars of ecosystem management
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Ecosystem management is widely proposed in the popular and professional literature as the modern and preferred way of managing natural resources and ecosystems. Advocates glowingly describe ecosystem management as an approach that will protect the environment, maintain healthy ecosystems, preserve biological diversity, and ensure sustainable development. Critics scoff at the concept as a new label for old ideas. The definitions of ecosystem management are vague and clarify little. Seven core principles, or pillars, of ecosystem management define and bound the concept and provide operational meaning: (1) ecosystem management reflects a stage in the continuing evolution of social values and priorities; it is neither a beginning nor an end; (2) ecosystem management is place-based and the boundaries of the place must be clearly and formally defined; (3) ecosystem management should maintain ecosystems in the appropriate condition to achieve desired social benefits; (4) ecosystem management should take advantage of the ability of ecosystems to respond to a variety of stressors, natural and man-made, but all ecosystems have limited ability to accommodate stressors and maintain a desired state; (5) ecosystem management may or may not result in emphasis on biological diversity; (6) the term sustainability, if used at all in ecosystem management, should be clearly defined, the time frame of concern, the benefits and costs of concern, and the relative priority of the benefits and costs; and (7) scientific information is important for effective ecosystem management, but is only one element in a decision-making process that is fundamentally one of public and private choice. A definition of ecosystem management based on the seven pillars is: 'the application of ecological and social information, options, and constraints to achieve desired social benefits within a defined geographic area and over a specified period'. As with all management paradigms, there is no 'right' decision but rather those decisions that appear to best respond to society's current and future needs as expressed through a decision-making process. There are, however, wrong management decisions, including the decision not to make a decision.
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