Evaluation and ecosystem management: New directions needed?
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Increased attention to ecosystem management, and the need to evaluate policies expected to affect the structure and function of ecological systems, demands more holistic methods of environmental evaluation. Standard economic methodologies, which measure all values as units of human welfare, are too atomistic for this purpose, and current conceptualizations in ecology do not permit evaluative judgments. This paper relaxes the welfare assumption, which assumes all values will be measured as units of individual welfare, and proposes a multi-scalar system of analysis. For decisions with relatively short-term impacts, standard cost-benefit criteria are retained, but for decisions with predictably long-term impacts, a second criterion, an Opportunities/Constraints Index is suggested. This criterion, the values of which are not reduced to units of welfare, is applied in conjunction with cost benefit analyses to policies that may have multi-generational impacts, and measures the options and opportunities stored in ecophysical systems. Such a system must be based on a community-based effort to specify important values, and resource-use options associated with them, that are constitutive of the communities own sense of well-being. Two problems remain: the problem of operationalizing the criterion and the problem of reconciling conflicts between the two criteria. It is argued that, while the criteria must be formulated in local situations it is possible to identify measurable physical characteristics that can be associated with development paths that maintain ecophysically supported options and opportunities for the future. A two-tiered system of analysis, which classifies risks according to their temporal and physical scale, can be used to determine which criterion should be emphasized in various situations.