Management of novel ecosystems: are novel approaches required?

Seastedt, T. R., R. J. Hobbs, and K. N. Suding. 2008. Management of novel ecosystems: are novel approaches required? Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment 6:547-553.
This paper suggests that proactive management strategies for novel ecosystems should not focus on returning ecosystems to historic states or on eliminating invasive species. Instead, systems should be managed to maximize “desirable species” or to achieve a “desirable state”. The authors implicitly acknowledge the difficulty of using the subjective term “desirable” as the foundation for broad systems management guidelines. However, the paper does not go far enough to address the potential policy pitfalls that this management strategy entails. What is desirable? To whom? Over what time scale?

Existing management strategies, despite their significant flaws, appear to leave management activities far less vulnerable to political manipulation. Stakeholder processes to establish values-based management runs the risk of undue corporate influence and high human discount rates that expose managers to the exact external influence the authors seek to avoid from “the public and policymakers, who are quick to condemn when activities designed to produce long-term results do not produce short-term benefits.” In the face of scientific uncertainty on how systems will respond to interventions in the face of climate change and resource degradation, there is a real danger that already muted scientific voices will be drowned out by the chorus of political dysfunction all together.

Mark Zimring

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