No matter how elegant ecosystem management is scientifically, it will not reach its potential in western U.S., with its abundant public lands, unless it is effective public policy. Such policy is (1) an adaptive process, (2) utilizes the most appropriate science and technology, (3) is implementable, and (4) has low transaction cost. This paper focuses on the latter two characteristics which are shaped by social legitimacy, and proposes a procedure termed Collaborative Learning as a promising decision-making process for ecosystem management. Two defining criteria of social legitimacy in contemporary American public policy are (1) policy solutions must be recognized as technically sound; and (2) if people's lives are affected, they must have a voice in policy process. The increasing sophistication of science and technology makes them less understood by the general public, and creates a dilemma between the narrow politics of expertise and a broad politics of public inclusion. Land management of any form in western U.S., with its mixed land ownership, is complicated and constrained by deeply held public values; multiple world views, parties and issues; legal constraints; and an entrenched conflict industry. Ecosystem management compounds these difficulties by adding more technical complexity and uncertainty, a systems view, increased focus on mixed-ownership solutions, and the importance of institutional continuity. Collaborative Learning (CL) is a framework for natural-resources policy making with public involvement. It is a hybrid between soft-systems methodology, which promotes learning and systems thinking, and alternative dispute resolution, which deals with value differences and strategic behaviors. CL stresses improvement rather than solution, situation over problem or conflict, concerns and interests rather than positions, progress over success, desirable and feasible change rather than desired future condition. Evaluations of CL conclude that the process broadens participants' understanding, improves communication between diverse communities, and implements improvements. And while strategic behaviors persist, there is increased rapport, respect, and trust among participants. It is well-suited to ecosystem management.
Daniels, Steven E. and Walker, Gregg B.
"Searching for effective natural-resources policy: The special challenges of ecosystem management,"
Natural Resources and Environmental Issues: Vol. 5
, Article 5.
Available at: http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/nrei/vol5/iss1/5