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What Is Ecosystem Management?

Various species, including whales, have been over-exploited by humans.
Ecosystem management strives to protect species such as owls, while allowing the harvesting of some timber.
A forest ecosystem.
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  • Written By: Victoria Blackburn
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 01 April 2014
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There are many different definitions for the term ecosystem management, but there are two common themes throughout them all. First, ecosystem management should either maintain or improve the ecosystem. Second, the management should provide products or services for current and future users of the ecosystem.

An ecosystem is made up of all the species, including humans, that live within a particular physical environment. It is made up of the living and non-living components that interact to form a stable and self-perpetuating system. An ecosystem is stable in that it can adjust to changes from within and self-perpetuating as it continues without interference from humans or other species. Examples of ecosystems include coniferous forests in North America, kelp forests in the ocean and tropical rainforests.

If a particular part of an ecosystem is removed more quickly than it can be replenished, then the entire system could be in trouble. This could be due to the invasion by a new species or the use and exploitation of part of the ecosystem by humans. It doesn’t matter what part of the ecosystem is being removed, the effects are the same.

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There are many examples of over-exploitation of a species by humans, including giant redwoods in California, many different species of large game in Africa, and whales around the world. The decimation of the whale population through hunting was highly publicized. Conservation does not mean that no plant or animal can be destroyed. Instead, removal is performed in a controlled manner so nothing is ever removed from an ecosystem faster than it can be replaced. Conservation through ecosystem management means the entire ecosystem can be maintained while providing for current and future users.

One of the key points of opposition to ecosystem management comes from those who currently use the ecosystem for their livelihood. An example is timber production versus conservation within the coniferous forests of the Pacific Northwest of the United States. Those within the timber industry were worried about a loss of jobs, while conservationists pointed to the loss of key species, such as owls, due to the lack of trees. The ecosystem management program that was drawn up provided a way to harvest timber while still leaving enough trees in certain areas to maintain the level of species.

It is important to note that ecosystem management involves maintaining an entire ecosystem, not just working on a particular species or part of the ecosystem. Often by focusing on just one area, other areas within the ecosystem would suffer as the one area prospered. Ecosystem management offers a more holistic view of creating a successful ecosystem for the present and the future.

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