It has become common knowledge in the conservation community that managing natural resource in a world divided by artificial political boundaries is challenging and at times seemingly impossible. These challenges become even more daunting as habitat managers and species managers rarely are one and the same. Couple this with a mix of public and private lands through which waters carve their path and we begin to get a sense of how natural resource management and conservation become so difficult.
Ecosystem-based management is a natural resource management protocol whose simplicity in concept belies its application. At its most basic ecosystem-based management encompasses two broad concepts: 1) managing natural resources along ecological boundaries rather than political boundaries and 2) managing the ecosystem as a system rather than by individual land cover types, habitat types, or species.
Intuitively we in the fly fishing community have long understood that a healthy fishery requires more than a population of trout. We long ago moved past the era of stocking and assuming that the presence of trout in a body of water constitutes either a healthy or adequate fishery. Likewise, when lifting our gaze from the water we have long recognized that the uplands, their use, development, and health all influence the health of local waters and the fishery. In many ways we've known for quite sometime that a healthy watershed requires more than just clean waters, but a healthy, functioning upland ecosystem as well.
In landscapes as complex as those we love to fish throughout the United States implementing something as conceptually simple as ecosystem-based management is itself a complex endeavor. Bringing together a diverse set of stakeholders, natural resource management agencies, industries, and private landowners to craft a vision of a healthy ecosystem as well a means of achieving goals within an ecosystem context is as daunting as any conservation challenges we seek to tackle. Nevertheless, ecosystem-based management serves as an effective means of understanding and addressing the complex environmental impacts threatening our cold water fisheries and the sport we love.
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