Incorporating Local Values into Ecosystem Management

Sustainable Biosphere Initiative Project Office

Notes from a Conversation on Ecosystem Management
October 25, 1995
1st in a Series "Incorporating Local Values into Ecosystem Management"

A fundamental challenge facing an ecosystem-level approach to natural resource management is the need to function simultaneously on large and small temporal and spatial scales. Effective management approaches will recognize and maintain fundamental relationships among components of an ecosystem and be responsive to local economic needs and social priorities. To address the challenges of incorporating local values into ecosystem management, the Sustainable Biosphere Initiative Project Office and the Interagency Ecosystem Management Coordinating Group convened a discussion group composed of individuals representing a range of federal and non-federal perspectives. The Conversation identified legal and institutional barriers associated with incorporating local values into ecosystem-based approaches to land use and natural resources management, as well as possible solutions to overcome these barriers. Problems and solutions can be clustered under the headings of "Communication" and "Parity" among different stakeholders. While some issues are broad and others are more specific, together they represent some of the difficulties inherent in considering multiple scales across landscapes of diverse ecological and economic interests.


Issues of communication:

  • Community efforts at natural resource management are usually not well integrated with efforts at the county, state, tribal, and national levels. Understanding is incomplete: Local community members may be unaware of emerging government policies. Policy makers may be unaware of local environmental conditions. And, scientists often do not provide input to policy makers or education to local community members
  • The different missions and agendas of community members, agency representatives, and conservation organizations are not taken into account in seeking a mutually beneficial plan for the management of natural resources.
  • Often, local input is not requested by policy makers until an environmental problem is in a state of crisis, or until an economic threat occurs that affects interests beyond the local community.

Issues of Parity:

  • Because the power differences within social structures affect citizen participation in broad public hearings, some stakeholders are prevented from providing input, public opinion is not accurately assessed, and the resultant policies do not reflect the needs of community members. Critical public input is often never utilized, as public hearings are frequently used to assess local support for a previously proposed action plan, rather than for open dialog weighing a variety of options.
  • Only local values of broad political interest are considered on a par with the priorities of policy makers.

Issues of Communication:

  • Rather than holding meetings behind closed doors, broad planning groups and joint projects can be organized early in the process of setting policy to focus on working toward consensus.
  • Policy makers can alert the public to the current status and direction of policy initiatives and find out which members of a given community are the best sources for community information and leadership of public opinion.
  • Federal agencies and national conservation organizations should become aware of the ties between local political realities and county government, state government, tribal governments, and Congress.
  • To enhance the flexibility and effectiveness of policies, changes in local conditions and public opinion should be monitored.
  • National organizations should support existing local efforts to assess and manage natural resources by bringing a broader perspective to discussions and by providing access to technical and information resources.
  • Long-term relationships between agencies, organizations and communities can be developed through consistent communication and can increase the level of trust among all parties.
  • Agencies and conservation organizations can involve local communities in "walks" through problem sites, giving everyone a first hand view of current conditions and creating a medium for discussion which allows all participants to help develop solutions.
  • Stakeholders should explore role-playing techniques in which individuals exchange places for a day and experience the concerns and priorities of another party.

Issues of Parity:

  • The time, date, and location of a public meeting should be sensitive to the needs of the local community and should be determined jointly by community members and agency representatives.
  • Public opinion surveys of a given community and outlying areas can provide input to policy decisions in a manner that provides a more accurate cross-section of community views than is provided by public hearings.
  • For each section of a community to build a sense of solidarity and to ensure that its voice is heard, community members can discuss issues in small, self-selected groups prior to engaging in open, public meetings.
  • A step toward considering local values on a par with the values and priorities of academics and policy makers is the willingness to uphold the confidentiality of sacred Native American religious sites, special archaeological sites, and the locations of endangered plants.

Incorporating human values into ecosystem management is a challenge that requires effort and commitment at all levels.  Points outlined above are examples of actions necessary to overcome the obstacles to inclusive decisionmaking.  Future conversations in this series on issues surrounding ecosystem management will continue to emphasize broad representation in discussions and creative solutions to problems.

Participants in the 1st conversation were:

John Dossett, National Congress of American Indians
Maia Enzer, American Forests
Rick Haeuber, Sustainable Biosphere Initiative
Ann Hooker, Federal Aviation Administration
Anne Hoover, US Forest Service
Donna Kostka, National Park Service
Wayne Morrissey, Congressional Research Service
Bill Osburn, Department of Energy
Peggy Overby, American Anthropological Association
Doug Sampson, The Nature Conservancy (Maryland)


Muriel Crespi, IEMCG and National Park Service
Mary Barber, Sustainable Biosphere Initiative

*The Sustainable Biosphere Initiative (SBI) of the Ecological Society of America, in association with the Interagency Ecosystem Management Coordinating Group (IEMCG), is hosting a series of conversations on issues surrounding ecosystem management.  The SBI highlights the value of ecological research information for decision making.  The IEMCG provides a coordinating mechanism for agency ecosystem management activities.  Participants in the Conversations are drawn from different sectors and represent a broad sweep of expertise in the areas of natural resources, land use, and governance.

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