Ecosystem management

The ecosystem management theme is broadly defined to include both policy questions, such as the interactions of multiple governments and stakeholders in setting restoration goals, as well as science and engineering studies to support the development and evaluation of specific techniques for restoring streams, lakes, wetlands, groundwater, and the up-lands in the drainage system. An important component of all management research is the need to consider both ecological and human inputs and responses to restoration activities. In this regard, the idea of human ecology is a useful integrative concept that underscores the mutual interactions between humans and the surrounding ecosystems.

A central ERIE research focus examines the potentially conflicting forms of value that intersect in environmental restoration efforts, and the constraints that the integration of those values places on policy. Conflicting values may originate from contrasting worldviews (e.g., the contention of American Indian intellectual Vine Deloria, Jr. that traditional Native American environmental policies related to a world that was overwhelmingly “alive” while Europeans have categorized the world as largely “dead”) or from different ethical systems or assumptions within the western tradition, such as the rejection by environmentalists of economic considerations as the sole means of determining viable environmental policy. Both viewpoints inject non-individualistic cultural and political considerations into the deliberative process.

The Great Lakes and surrounding region offers an excellent laboratory to study socio-legal systems “in action”, and ERIE research will perform comparative assessments of U.S., Canadian, and Native American perspectives on restoration goals, practices, and governance. In particular, new projects will address (a) joint socio-legal evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses of the existing set of governing institutions from an interdisciplinary set of perspectives as well as from a practical implementation standpoint; (b) creation of a set of possible options for changes in legal agreements and analysis of how they might be interpreted in different state, provincial, tribal, and national contexts; (c) development of a proposed integrated environmental governance approach that incorporates some of the new innovations in governance, including certification systems through private-law making and performance criteria for evaluating agency results; and (d) an open and wide-ranging conversation about governance in general and what principles can and should animate its institutions.

In addition to ethical and governance issues, management research also will consider engineering and policy vehicles for achieving specific objectives, including: (a) a critical assessment of stream restoration policy, (b) development of informed policies to address aging watershed infrastructure, and (c) studies related to the timely issue of dam removal and decommissioning, which is gaining popularity both in concept and practice due to societal concerns for safety, economics, recreation, water quality, and ecosystem health.