A framework for understanding social science contributions to ecosystem management
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We propose a framework for understanding the role that the social sciences should play in ecosystem management. Most of the ecosystem management literature assumes that scientific understanding of ecosystems is solely the purview of natural scientists. While the evolving principles of ecosystem management recognize that people play an important role, social considerations are usually limited to political and decision-making processes and to development of environmental education. This view is incomplete. The social science aspect of ecosystem management has two distinct components: one that concerns greater public involvement in the ecosystem management decision-making process, and one that concerns integrating social considerations into the science of understanding ecosystems. Ecosystem management decisions based primarily on biophysical factors can polarize people, making policy processes more divisive than usual. Ecological data must be supplemented with scientific analysis of the key social factors relevant to a particular ecosystem. Objective social science analysis should be included on an equal basis with ecological science inquiry and with data from public involvement. A conceptual framework is presented to communicate to ecological scientists the potential array of social science contributions to ecosystem management.