Building Policies for Stewardship

A dream?

We as humans and especially here at SFS like to picture an ideal government and hope that as we learn more about science and political theory, government can take steps in that direction. By any measure, governance within the United States is far from meeting the theoretical ideal. Implementation and enforcement are often pointed at as more important factors than policy design in terms of effectiveness in meeting policy goals. But if we ever had the chance to change the design, here’s four principles that will help make sure we move in the right direction.

Addressing Scale: Appropriate information gathering

If scale is unified at the ecosystem level – bounded by hydrological and geophysical boundaries – then information about the system must also represent the ecosystem scale. Fisheries management, for example, requires information on all the potential factors that could affect stock size – habitat, water quality, fishing pressure, competition with other native and nonnative species, productivity of the food web, etc. Furthermore, the total fishery stock in an area would have to be considered together – total biomass of market species, for example. These types of measurements will delineate threats to conservation to a particular species versus threats to the health of the whole system.For a more tangible example, think of risk assessment procedures. They generally rely on dose-response relationships determined in a lab. These are measured by exposing an organism representing the ecosystem to increasing doses of a suspected toxin and calculating the no observable effects level along with several more lethal metrics. These measurements rarely account for sublethal effects on behavior or reproduction (Romano 2007), interactions with other toxins (Long, MacDonald et al. 1995), evolutionary consequences (Medina, Correa et al. 2007) or effects on ecological processes such as chemical signaling  or competition. There is currently no way to model these effects of a given toxin within an ecosystem (Hinton 1998). Returning to the fisher hypothesis of decreased carrying capacity, these risk assessment procedures provide no way to address their hypothesis that overall carrying capacity of their habitat may be decreased.

Humans in nature, or socionature, can still be beautiful; thanks

Adding Participation: Modeling “socionature”

Participation most often occurs in management, enforcement, and research (Silver and Campbell 2005). People are largely viewed as a force outside of the ecosystem, limiting participation to these established paths. In order to take full advantage of participatory benefits, more routes of participation must be identified through a vision of the ecosystem as a linked social-ecological system (Berkes, Colding et al. 2003) or socionature (Swyngedouw 1999). Interactions between people and the environment are coded in religion, magic, and science (Nader 1996), so scientific governance will not be enough to fully manage the system. Recognizing these other storage locations of scientific knowledge and conservation practices is necessary to maintain a functioning relationship between society and nature (Lansing 2006). Essentially, people are participating in management without recognizing it as such – recognition may provide avenues to facilitate the transformation from a conservation ethic to a conservation result.

Understanding the myriad ways in which humans interact with nature will allow explicit identification of potential areas of interaction to modify participation. There is growing evidence that a large part of observed nature is produced through a series of decisions by the groups of people who interact regularly with that nature. Therefore, the addition of decision analysis and environmental philosophy will be important in participatory management. Decisions can be modeled through games where stakeholders essentially practice management on a game board instead of in the field. These games identify how particular decisions or philosophies guiding those decisions manifest themselves in material ways in the managed ecosystem (e.g. the SeaWeb game modeling Marine Spatial Planning). Participation by both citizens and policymakers is in some ways explicit and designed (as in comanagement schemes) and in others implicit and an inherent in living in a given ecosystem – both forms of participation need to be recognized.

Realizing Internalization of Costs: nested governance

The subsidiarity principle of governance says that the smallest level of government necessary will be the most effective. In her design principles for successful commons management, Ostrom (1990) lists nested governance as one of the indicators for success. Nested governance rests on the assumption that local governance will be able to identify most policy needs and enforce policies effectively, but that higher level governance is needed to specifically address externalities between communities or from entities outside communities like industry. Governance must be able to function at a level high enough to identify and rectify externalities through enforcing new policy or market mechanisms. This extends all the way up to global governance to address problems such as climate change or plastic pollution in international seas.

High-level governance is not enough, however. In an example from integrated water governance, “the much-lauded integration of water supply and regulatory functions in basin-wide regional water authorities, according to the principle of integrated river basin management, had the undesirable side effect of discouraging enforcement of water quality regulation (particularly sewage works), further aggravating environmental degradation” (Bakker 2005). In this case, the integration of water management to the basin level in order to address water quality and quantity problems dismantled local governance institutions with the ability to observe infractions and enforce penalties. Coordinated, nested levels of governance are therefore needed to perform all levels of the policy process – from creation to implementation to enforcement.

Implementing adaptive management: Agreement on evaluative criteria

Management techniques can be made more effective by a variety of tools, but success is determined by a given set of evaluative criteria used to inform adaptation. A historical perspective, however, reveals “’regimes of nature management’ which privilege certain species, landscapes, or environmental outcomes are privileged while others are peripheralized or disenfranchised”(Zimmerer and Bassett 2003). These regimes are created by narrowly defining success. This definition is often reflective of unequal power dynamics in a community with one person or group using their power to set a particular agenda. Poignant examples of this include damming of rivers for urban power generation causing the removal of riparian rural communities, the creation of parks to preserve wilderness while removing indigenous residents, and ecotourism displacing subsistence fishing (Zimmerer and Bassett 2003).

A metric gaining popularity is the “triple bottom line”, balancing environmental, economic, and social outcomes. Although there is sometimes debate about how each of the three are weighted in a final evaluation, the triple bottom line brings attention to the variety of criteria that should be included in policy evaluation. Policies that only address one of these three aspects have historically not succeeded in the long run under claims of injustice, unsustainability, or financially infeasibility.

Sources (the best of those cited, feel free to comment if you want full references on the others):
MEDINA, M., CORREA, J., & BARATA, C. (2007). Micro-evolution due to pollution: Possible consequences for ecosystem responses to toxic stress Chemosphere, 67 (11), 2105-2114 DOI: 10.1016/j.chemosphere.2006.12.024

Lansing, S. (2006). Perfect order. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. review here

Bakker, K. (2005). Neoliberalizing Nature? Market Environmentalism in Water Supply in England and Wales Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 95 (3), 542-565 DOI: 10.1111/j.1467-8306.2005.00474.x

Zimmerer, K., T. Bassett (2003). Political Ecology: An Integrative Approach to Geography and Environment-Development Studies. New York & London: Guilford Press.  review here