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Recent Trends in Ecosystem Management

A Master's Project completed for the School of Natural Resources & Environment, University of Michigan
Mark Brush, Allen Hance, Kathleen Judd, Elizabeth Rettenmaier
Advised by Professor Steve Yaffee
April 2000

Recent Trends in Ecosystem Management is the result of a 1-½ year research project conducted by four Resource Policy & Behavior graduate students in the School of Natural Resources & Environment. The results of this project were presented at the 2000 Society for Conservation Biology Conference held in Missoula, Montana. The full report is available in PDF format.




Since the early 1990s, ecosystem management (EM) has emerged as a promising new paradigm for natural resource management and conservation planning. In 1995, researchers at the University of Michigan conducted a broad-based study of 105 EM projects, the results of which were published in Ecosystem Management in the United States (Island Press, 1996). In an effort to track and evaluate the ecological and institutional developments at these projects over the past five years, our research team designed a comprehensive follow-up survey and administered it to project managers at these same sites. The survey focused on advances in project lifecycle, strategies, monitoring techniques, process and ecological outcomes, self-rated success, and factors impeding and facilitating project progress. Survey data received from 84 respondents was analyzed using a variety of statistical techniques, including factor analysis and several standard tests of statistical significance. Follow-up interviews with project managers were used to develop a series of 26 case studies that highlighted significant trends in the contemporary practice of ecosystem management.


Major Findings


In general, our study indicates that the ecosystem-based approach is resulting in improvements in the field.

  • While a small percentage of projects have been terminated as a result of budget shortfalls or political opposition, most projects are moving from planning into implementation of ecosystem management.
  • Process outcomes, which dominated responses in 1995, have increased still further. Levels of trust, public education, and awareness have shown the greatest increases.
  • Ecological outcomes, especially those related to ecological restoration, have also increased significantly since 1995, suggesting that several years of institution-building often precede accomplishments being made in the field. Important ecological outcomes reported included: improvements in scientific understanding and research; improvements in "overall ecosystem integrity"; ongoing ecological restoration; and increases in native species populations.
  • Several factors were reported as facilitating success. The factors reported the most often include: presence of dedicated, energetic individuals; strong project leadership; well-trained personnel; interagency cooperation; agency commitment; and consensus-based decision making.
  • On the other hand, the obstacles to success that were reported the most often were: personnel and funding shortages; pressure for development; severity of stresses; and insufficient scientific understanding.

Recommendations for Policy Makers and Project Managers

The information shared by EM practitioners and the quantitative and qualitative analyses conducted by the research team led to recommendations for policymakers and managers.

  • Develop policies recognizing the long-term nature of ecosystem management projects, addressing multi-year budgeting, long term staffing, and appropriately aligned incentive systems.
  • Develop effective ways to preserve green spaces and wilderness areas in the U.S. through a variety of strategies, including land acquisition.
  • Focus on stakeholder outreach and involvement; using stakeholder outreach effectively to reduce levels of opposition has been an important strategy behind the effectiveness of many of these EM efforts.
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