Generalizable principles for ecosystem stewardship-based management of social-ecological systems: lessons learned from Alaska

Human pressure could compromise the provision of ecosystem services if we do not implement strategies such as ecosystem stewardship to foster sustainable trajectories. Barriers to managing systems based on ecosystem stewardship principles are pervasive, including institutional constraints and uncertain system dynamics. However, solutions to help managers overcome these barriers are less common. How can we better integrate ecosystem stewardship into natural resource management practices? I draw on examples from the literature and two broadly applicable case studies from Alaska to suggest some generalizable principles that can help managers redirect how people use and view ecosystems. These include (1) accounting for both people and ecosystems in management actions; (2) considering historical and current system dynamics, but managing flexibly for the future; (3) identifying interactions between organizational, temporal, and spatial scales; (4) embracing multiple causes in addition to multiple objectives; and (5) acknowledging that there are no panaceas and that success will be incremental. I also identify next steps to rigorously evaluate the broad utility of these principles and quickly move principles from theory to application. The findings of this study suggest that natural resource managers are poised to overcome the barriers to implementing ecosystem stewardship and to develop innovative adaptations to social-ecological problems.
Hansen, W. D.
Ecology and Society