AERC WORKSHOP: NEW DIRECTIONS AND APPLICATIONS FOR ECOSYSTEM SCIENCE IN THE PRIVATE SECTOR


This workshop was convened by AERC board members during October in Santa Barbara, supported by the new National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis. The main objective of the workshop was to examine the unique opportunities for refinement of ecosystem concepts and their applications to natural resource management on privately owned lands. Private lands require unique consideration relative to their focused management goals, diverse scales of management within constraints of ownership boundaries, and the processes and problems that traverse ownership boundaries within a landscape. Eleven participants, (4 researchers, 3 private sector conservation representatives, 3 industry representatives, 1 state environmental regulator) attended the two day event, which was organized around three panels and a synthesis session.

The first panel addressed ecological concepts, information needs and applications unique to the private sector. The need for new private-sector partnerships with the research community was discussed, based upon three current trends: 1) the decline in federal research funds; 2) the reallocation of past available funding toward increasingly focused and applied objectives; and 3) the concensus that these trends reflect public desire for evidence of the social contributions of public-funded research. There is a potential for increased future funding for ecosystem research from the private sector, but the definition of the work and the results must have application and high information value to the environmental and management challenges faced by the private sector. Although ecosystem management concepts have been examined extensively in the context of public lands, this information has not been translated into understandable or realistic models of land management that have relevance to the management objectives of most private-sector landowners. Workshop participants examined the possibilities for natural resource managers and private sector interests to participate in the design and review phases of research planning in ways that could ensure relevance and accountability to their information needs.

The second panel examined linkages of ecosystem science with private sector economics and social science. The inextricable relationship between ecosystems and social systems was discussed at length, especially that an understanding of ecosystems barren of an understanding of the human component is unacceptably incomplete in the context of the private sector. Three major social science research considerations were placed on the ecosystem research agenda, to include:

The third panel topic was applications for incentive policies and private sector partnerships for stewardship of natural resources. Presentations from the participants focused on actual examples of incentive policies and private sector partnerships that are working well in some localities. It was clear that much experimentation is occurring with novel strategies to secure effective conservation of ecological resources on private lands by landowner groups, conservation groups, and government agencies. What these strategies seek to do is to recognize the need to accommodate the land management objectives of private landowners, take maximum advantage of opportunities to protect or enhance resources on such lands, and remove disincentives or create incentives for practices that protect, restore, or enhance natural resources. Government should encourage creative and regionally variable experimentation for approaches such as watershed management, mitigation banking, safe-harbor assurances to landowners, acquisition of less than fee interests in land, transferable development rights, and mutual research and other partnerships between past adversaries.

It was concluded that private landowners must be assured that ecosystem science is not intended to be a Trojan Horse through which a landowner’s objectives for land use are made subservient to other objectives defined by others. Rather, the role of ecosystem science is to provide information to enable landowners to achieve their own management objectives while simultaneously advancing such goals as sustainability, maintenance or restoration of biodiversity, maintenance of key ecosystem processes/services, or general environmental protection. This is a critically important communications challenge that researchers, governmental agencies, and others must take seriously.

Several followup activities for the working group were deemed to warrant further consideration. This included sharply focusing upon specific issues or case studies among some of the participants. Alternatively, the group could be expanded for a followup meeting that would focus upon exploration of these and new private lands issues with policy makers and other governmental officials.

Since the workshop, at least two specific ideas have been converted into grant proposals for followup work among subsets of participants, and other ideas are under development. A manuscript is nearing completion for submission to Bioscience by the key participants, and the AERC board is currently examining options for appropriate institutional actions.