Making ecology relevant to sustainability: Trends, lessons, and challenges for stronger links between ecology, society, and policy

TitleMaking ecology relevant to sustainability: Trends, lessons, and challenges for stronger links between ecology, society, and policy
Publication TypeConference Paper
Year of Publication2004
AuthorsKing E.G., Roberts M., Herrick JE
Conference Name89th Annual Meeting, Ecological Society of America
Date PublishedAugust 1-6, 2004
Conference LocationPortland, OR
ARIS Log Number168822
Keywordschallenges, ecology, lessons, policy, rangelands, society, sustainable land use, trends
AbstractRangeland degradation has become an environmental problem of enormous proportions worldwide and is commonly the result of unsustainable livestock production. Degradation threatens not only the ecological integrity of grasslands, shrublands, and savannas, but also the social and economic viability of pastoralist communities that depend on them. Rangeland ecology can provide much of the information necessary to assess, restore, and manage degraded rangeland, but implementing sustainable land use strategies will ultimately depend on integrating the ecological information with social, economic, and policy considerations. In this paper we discuss common challenges that arise in developing and implementing plans for sustainable rangeland use. We break these challenges down into categories of ecological, social, economic, and policy issues and present some important principles that can help promote the role of ecological information in resolving those issues. Within the field of rangeland ecology itself, we focus upon the utility of models for understanding degradation and the necessity of incorporating land restoration or rehabilitation into sustainable land-use strategies. In terms of the social challenges, we focus on the importance of pastoralist education and participation in the ecological aspects of sustainable land management, because of the importance of self-reliance to the long-term success of a project and also because traditional ecological knowledge may not always be adequate or relevant for lands that are degraded far beyond their historical condition. Economically, we explain how the ecological condition of rangelands can be directly linked to economic benefits for pastoralists, but also how perverse incentives can arise to disrupt that linkage. Finally, we discuss the role of local, national, and international policy in the promotion of sustainable land-use systems. We compare the effectiveness of grass-roots and top-down approaches to rangeland management programs and argue for greater involvement in policy advocacy by rangeland ecologists. We will illustrate these trends, lessons and challenges with summaries of global case studies.