11 Feb 2010, 11:25am
Ecology Management Philosophy Policy
by admin

The Fictional Ecosystem and the Pseudo-science of Ecosystem Management

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.

Full text [here]

Selected excerpts:

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.

The fictional ecosystem

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/

Tansley further writes “[e]cosystems are extremely vulnerable, both on account of their own unstable components and because they are very liable to invasion by the components of other systems. … This relative instability of the ecosystem, due to the imperfections of its equilibrium, is of all degrees of magnitude. … Many systems (represented by vegetative climaxes) which appear to be stable during the period for which they have been under accurate observation may in reality have been slowly changing all the time, because the changes effected have been too slight to be noticed by observers.” 2/

Lackey confirms writing “[t]here is no ‘natural’ state in nature; it is a relative concept. The only thing natural is change, some-times somewhat predictable, oftentimes random, or at least unpredictable. It would be nice if it were otherwise, but it is not.” 3/

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.

We are told in Creating a Forestry for the 21st Century: The Science of Ecosystem Management that “ecosystems, in contrast to forest stands, typically have been more conceptual than real physical entities.” 4/

The Report of the Ecological Society of America Committee on the Scientific Basis for Ecosystem Management tells us “[n]ature has not provided us with a natural system of ecosystem classification or rigid guidelines for boundary demarcation. Ecological systems vary continuously along complex gradients in space and are constantly changing through time.” 5/

“People designate ecosystem boundaries to address specific problems, and therefore an ecosystem can be as small as the surface of a leaf or as large as the entire planet and beyond.” 6/

“Defining ecosystem boundaries in a dynamic world is at best an inexact art,” says the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) in its 1995 publication, Integrating Social Science and Ecosystem Management: A National Challenge.

“Among ecologists willing to draw any lines between ecosystems, no two are likely to draw the same ones. Even if two agree, they would recognize the artificiality of their effort…” 7/ …

The nebulous nature of the ecosystem, an open door for corruption

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.

Christensen defends the nebulous nature. “The usefulness of the ecosystem concept to management is often criticized because of the absence of a rigid operational definition, but this is precisely its great virtue. The concept recognizes that the goods and services depend on the processes and that the jurisdictional or ownership boundaries we inscribe on the land often have little relationship to such processes. At the very least, this concept helps identify the patterns of land use that are likely to lead to conflicts and the stakeholders who must be involved in the resolution of these conflicts. In an ideal world, the ecosystem concept could also provide a frame-work for defining domains of land use planning and management.” 11/ It can be whatever the designer wants. …

Lack of a rigid operational definition of an ecosystem gives the designer a blank check. Corruption and exploitation are inevitable. The exploitation is confirmed by a University of Michigan/Wilderness Society study of 105 ecosystem management projects in Ecosystem Management in the United States: An Assessment of Current Experience. Four ecosystems were smaller than 1,250 acres (the smallest being 60 acres). Fifteen were 1,250 to 10,000 acres. Thirty-four were larger than 1 million acres with the Interior Columbia Basin Ecosystem affecting 144 million acres (225,000 square miles), an area slightly smaller than the original 13 colonies. The Gulf of Mexico Program covers 410 million acres. 13/

Delineation of the fictional ecosystem

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.

The delineation of these mythical ecosystems will be “based on only tiny fraction of the ecological information about the area they outline.” 14/ This is because of a problem that bedevils bureaucrats and statist academics in all efforts to allocate resources: the inability to collect and process information.

Tall Timbers Research Station, an ecosystem advocate, completed the re-census of the Stoddard Fire Plots. It took thousands of hours of labor over an entire year with more than 25 Tall Timbers research technicians, aides, interns, and volunteers involved. The Fire Plots are 84 one-quarter acre or 84 half-acre plots depending on which Tall Timbers’ report one reads. 15/

Obviously, a complete inventory of ecosystems at the scales reported in the Michigan study is impossible. No one can ever be sure that he has not missed something or that something has not changed that would change the conclusion. This will not stop bureaucrats, statist academics, and GAGs from applying results far beyond the scale of the data collected. …

The Pseudo-science of Ecosystem Management

Supporters of the fictional ecosystem demand that it be managed. Enter the pseudo-science of ecosystem management. There are several definitions of ecosystem management. The Ecological Society of America (ESA) defines it as “management driven by explicit goals, executed by policies, protocols, and practices, and made adaptable by monitoring or research based on our best understanding of the ecological interactions and processes necessary to sustain ecosystem structure and function.” 32/

ESA further claims “ecosystem management must include the following:

1. Long-term sustainability as fundamental value,
2. clear, operational goals,
3. sound ecological models and understanding,
4. understanding complexity and interconnectedness,
5. recognition of the dynamic character of ecosystems,
6. attention to context and scale,
7. acknowledgement of humans as ecosystem components, and
8. commitment to adaptability and accountability.” 33/

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.

As for the individual, the message of ecosystem management is “that the State is more important than the individual, that individuals must be willing and ready to sacrifice themselves for [the] nation.” Adolph Hitler 1933 38/

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.


“Ecosystems are inherently subjective and infinitely elastic. They are mental constructs, designed for categorical convenience, not objective realities in nature. As such, there are no objective criteria to determine where one ecosystem ends and another begins. Like a fingerprint, every spot on the surface of the earth is unique. Thus, as a matter of law, regulating …ecosystems is an open invitation to regulating anything or everything.” 39/

“Providing the federal government with the authority to centrally manage ecosystems would entail a massive transfer of power from the individual to the state. Federal regulators and third-party activists [GAGs] would inevitably be involved in land-use decisions throughout the nation; since most ‘ecosystems’ are in the hands of private landowners, one could not hope to seriously ‘manage’ ecosystems without ‘managing’ private land use. That would probably occur through the application of a greatly expanded regulatory framework and virtually unlimited opportunities to use or threaten to use litigation if government demands regarding private land-use decisions were not met.” 40/

Lackey leaves us with a sobering thought. “[T]he concept has been embraced widely by politicians and appointed officials. At least in the political arena, the debate is concluded whether or not ecosystem management is a good idea: it will be implemented, or at least attempted, in word if not in deed.” 41/

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Edmund Burke

  • Colloquia

  • Commentary and News

  • Contact

  • Topics

  • Archives

  • Recent Posts

  • Meta