Theory into Practice: Implementing Ecosystem Management Objectives in the USDA Forest Service

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In the United States and around the world, scientists and practitioners have debated the definition and merits of ecosystem management as a new approach to natural resource management. While these debates continue, a growing number of organizations formally have adopted ecosystem management. However, adoption does not necessarily lead to successful implementation, and theories are not always put into practice. In this article, we examine how a leading natural resource agency, the United States Department of Agriculture Forest Service, has translated ecosystem management theory into concrete policy objectives and how successfully these objectives are perceived to be implemented throughout the national forest system. Through document analysis, interviews, and survey responses from 345 Forest Service managers (district rangers, forest supervisors, and regional foresters), we find that the agency has incorporated numerous ecosystem management components into its objectives. Agency managers perceive that the greatest attainment of such objectives is related to collaborative stewardship and integration of scientific information, areas in which the organization has considerable prior experience. The objectives perceived to be least attained are adaptive management and integration of social and economic information, areas requiring substantial new resources and a knowledge base not traditionally emphasized by natural resource managers. Overall, success in implementing ecosystem management objectives is linked to committed forest managers.

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