Ecosystem Management and Statist Bureaucracy

Nearly twenty years ago the US Forest Service adopted “ecosystem management” as a primary mission. Ecosystem management is a nebulous term that means whatever they want it to mean, and surprise surprise, it has entailed a massive transfer of power from the individual to the state.

An excellent synopsis of the meaninglessness of the phrase, and of the statist power grab that lies hidden beneath the veneer of “ecosystem management”, may be found in our latest addition to the W.I.S.E. Colloquium, Forest and Fire Sciences [here]

The paper is:

Travis Cork III. 2010. The Fictional Ecosystem and the Pseudo-science of Ecosystem Management. W.I.S.E. White Paper No. 2010-3, Western Institute for Study of the Environment.

This is the third in our new series of White Papers. More are to come.

It has been our practice to place most comments regarding Colloquia papers here at SOS Forests. We don’t wish to clutter the Colloquia with off-topic and less than scholarly comments, but we do encourage your participation in the discussion. So comments on Mr. Cork’s paper should be directed towards this post.

If you have a pertinent scholarly commentary that meets the quality criteria of our Colloquia editors, then we can place it over there. We reserve the right to control placement.

Some excerpts from The Fictional Ecosystem and the Pseudo-science of Ecosystem Management by Travis Cork III:

LAND USE CONTROL has long been the goal of the statist element in our society. Zoning was the first major attempt at land use control. Wetland regulation and the Endangered Species Act have extended some control, but nothing has yet brought about a general policy of land use control. Ecosystem management is an attempt to achieve that end.

In The Use and Abuse of Vegetational Concepts and Terms, A. G. Tansley coined the term “ecosystem.” Tansley rejected the “conception of the biotic community” and application of the “terms ‘organism’ or ‘complex organism’” to vegetation. “Though the organism may claim our primary interest, when we are trying to think fundamentally we cannot separate them from their special environment, with which they form one physical system. It is the systems so formed which, from the point of view of the ecologist, are the basic units of nature on the face of the earth. … These ecosystems, as we may call them, are of the most various kinds and sizes… which range from the universe as a whole down to the atom” 1/

The ecosystem may be the basic unit of nature to the ecologist, that is—-man, but it is not the basic unit to nature. Its proponents confirm that it is a man-made construct. …

The nebulous nature of the ecosystem has not deterred bureaucrats, statist academics, and green advocacy groups (GAGs — The Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Audubon, et al.) from pushing it as the basic management unit in nature. …

Lack of a rigid operational definition of an ecosystem gives the designer a blank check. Corruption and exploitation are inevitable. …

Given that Mother Nature does not delineate ecosystems, who will delineate these fictional ecosystems? The answer is obvious, the self-interested elitists in the ruling class. …

Supporters of the fictional ecosystem demand that it be managed. Enter the pseudo-science of ecosystem management. …

A management policy that cannot define its basic unit, the ecosystem, cannot have clear, operational goals. It cannot be based on sound models or understanding at any scale or in any context.

That life is complex is no argument for the ecosystem or ecosystem management, especially by government. No entity is less prepared to deal with complexity or to be adaptable and accountable than bureaucracy. …

Ecosystem management will mean more government control. It will intrude on private property rights. If a justification is to be created using the Constitution, it will result in a further perversion of that document and our long-lost republican form of government. …

The ecosystem management literature is filled with this command-and-control, central planning mentality. Ecosystem management is a process rife with opportunities for exploitation and corruption by government and its allies. …

11 Feb 2010, 5:35pm
by Bob Z.

I like how WISE has concentrated during the past year on the Orwellian changes in forest science and forest management vocabularies that have been implemented by our agencies and our universities.

Why, and for what purpose, are such changes being made? The enormous changes in wealth and power to special interest groups through resulting litigation are one documented result of this process. Cork describes another — the transfer of control of resources from private entities to the state.

In Animal Farm these changes in word meaning were presented as somewhat amusing and almost simplistic results of political change. The descriptions appearing in these columns appear to be far more purposeful, pragmatic, and chilling.

Conservation means preservation now; and preservation means “unmanagement” — the antithesis of “wise use.” How did this happen? And who is responsible?

11 Feb 2010, 6:19pm
by Larry H.

I refuse to relinquish the moral higher ground on “saving our forests”. The GAGs have began a big push to convince Americans that “unmanagement” is the way to get back to those “park-like cathedrals” and “biodiversitopia”. I feel that they will ultimately lose the rest of their credibility in the face of solid science that supports active management. Americans see those huge flames and houses burning on TV, so they are hesitant to believe the eco’s contention that there aren’t many damaging catastrophic fires and they don’t burn as intense as we’re saying.

No one in the eco-blogs wants to answer my one question: what is wrong with restoring tree densities, forest structure, and species composition back to pre-European baselines?

Their silence to that question hints at the extreme disarray of their efforts to steal the scientific conservation theme away from us foresters.

Maybe instead of “ecosystem management” we can have “forest eco-sculpture”?? That might reach those foggy brains. Or go with one of those catchy government acronyms like Forest Learning Activist Group, or FLAG, which goes to schools to teach children that logging isn’t evil, but that neglect is. In the end, our science will prevail but, not until we endure more of the tragic “unintended consequences” that have been building for decades.



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