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Ecosystem management decision support for federal forests in the United States: a review

Informally Refereed
Authors: H. Michael Rauscher
Year: 1999
Type: Scientific Journal
Station: Southern Research Station
Source: Forest Ecology and Management. 114: 173-197.


Ecosystem management has been adopted as the philosophical paradigm guiding management on many Federal forests in the United States. The strategic goal of ecosystem management is to find a sensible middle ground between ensuring long-term protection of the environment while allowing an increasing population to use its natural resources for maintaining and improving human life. Ecosystem management has all the characteristics of "wicked" problems that are tricky, complex, and thorny. Ambiguities, conflicts, internal inconsistencies, unknown but large costs, lack of organized approaches, institutional shock and confusion, lack of scientific understanding of management consequences, and turbulent, rapidly changing power centers all contribute to the wickedness of the ecosystem management paradigm. Given that ecosystem management, like human survival and welfare, is a wicked problem, how can we proceed to tame it? Managers need to use the same tools that people have always used for handling such problems – knowledge, organization, judicious simplification, and inspired leadership. The generic theory of decision support system development and application is well developed. Numerous specific ecosystem management decision support systems (EM-DSS) have been developed and are evolving in their capabilities. There is no doubt that given a set of ecosystem management processes to support and adequate time and resources, effective EM-DSS can be developed. On the other hand, there is considerable doubt that sufficiently detailed, explicitly described, and widely accepted processes for implementing ecosystem management can be crafted given the current institutional, educational, social, and political climate. A socio-political climate in which everyone wants to reap the benefits and no one wants to pay the costs, incapacitates the Federal forest management decision-making process. Developing a workable ecosystem management process and the decision-making tools to support it is probably one of the most complex and urgent challenges facing us today. This paper offers a concise review of the state of the art of decision support systems related to implementing ecosystem management. A conceptual model of the context in which ecosystem management is expected to function is presented. Next, a candidate for an operational ecosystem management process is described and others are referenced. Finally, a generic ecosystem management decision support system is presented and many existing systems briefly described.


Rauscher, H. Michael. 1999. Ecosystem management decision support for federal forests in the United States: a review. Forest Ecology and Management. 114: 173-197.