From the Chair
Our Promising New Tool
By Douglas P. Wheeler
Chairman, California Biodiversity Council
A prestigious national policy organization has conducted the most thorough examination of ecosystem management planning in the United States and concluded that this approach to resource management is a very promising new tool by which to integrate our concern for biodiversity, sustainable development, and social impacts.
During more than two years of work, the Colorado-based Keystone National Policy Dialogue on Ecosystem Management, representing state and local governments, private landowners, conservation, agricultural, and many other groups, visited projects around the country, from the small community based Applegate Partnership in Oregon to the Florida Everglades.
At the start, not all of the participants were sold on ecosystem management. Some shared the doubts of other skeptics who fear that ecosystem management might interfere with their property rights. But they gained a better understanding, and their fears were assuaged. Their report displays an extraordinarily broad consensus.As a member of the Keystone group, I was proud to lead its tour of our Natural Community Conservation Planning (NCCP) pilot program in Southern California, which we believe is the nation's most advanced implementation of ecosystem management.
NCCP is designed to protect coastal sage scrub habitat and to sustain the threatened California gnatcatcher songbird and other species, while allowing for compatible economic development. The planning area covers 6,000 square miles in five counties, but participation is voluntary. Landowners who choose to participate gain certainty that land uses designated under NCCP will not be stymied by subsequent listings of species on their property.
NCCP, the Keystone group agreed typifies the nation's most innovative and promising ecosystem management efforts. After seeing its scope, complexity, and progress, the group acknowledged what we in California had already confirmed -- that NCCP is a model that has moved successfully from the development phase to the implementation phase.
The program works because of its collaborative nature, simplified regulatory requirements, and broad support among people who formerly disagreed about how to balance environmental and economic objectives. Its principles are being applied elsewhere in California, tailored to meet local needs.
What is Ecosystem Management?
The Keystone group defined ecosystem management as, "a collaborative process that strives to reconcile the promotion of economic opportunities and livable communities with the conservation of ecological integrity and biodiversity."
Ecosystem management is intended to be an anticipatory process that plans in advance to avoid crisis. But it cannot be implemented until the stakeholders share the vision for proactive planning. Traditionally, they have come to the table when they became dissatisfied with the status quo and felt the need to move beyond an impasse to a shared view.
Government's proper role in fostering ecosystem management varies, but with NCCP, the federal and state governments serve as a convener and facilitator, inviting all the parties to the table and making sure all interests are represented. Implementing land-use decisions is local government's responsibility.
The creation of NCCP and the California Biodiversity Council helped California place No. 1 in a Defenders of Wildlife survey earlier this year that concluded that California has the nation's best biodiversity policies and programs. But a lot of work remains to be done, and there is a real urgency, given California's continued growth. Our population is expected to grow from 32 million to 49 million by the year 2025.
In my view, the most important ingredients of effective ecosystem management are to: choose a large-scale problem; focus on habitat and ecological communities as opposed to single species; rely on sound science; incorporate economic needs; and involve all major stakeholders.
Douglas P. Wheeler is California's Secretary for Resources