Natural Experiments– Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment

Book Review: Natural Experiments– Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment
Judith A. Layzer. The MIT Press, 55 Hayward St., Cambridge, MA 02142-1493. 2008. 365 p. $28.00 paperback. ISBN 97802626222141.

By R.A. Dahlgren

Natural Experiments: Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment (American and Comparative Environmental Policy)Humans are degrading the environment at an accelerating rate and the effects of human activities are becoming increasingly more severe and irreversible. A critical need exists to address this ecosystem degradation in a manner that is environmentally effective, while at the same time being economically, socially, and politically acceptable.

The book, Natural Experiments– Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment, provides a timely and critical review of the effectiveness of the ecosystem-based management (EBM) approach as compared to the centralized, top-down, expert-driven environmental regulatory framework (e.g., Endangered Species Act, Clean Water Act). The ecosystem-based management approach entails collaborative, landscape-scale planning and implementation that is flexible and adaptive.

This approach was considered a “natural experiment,” as it was not known whether the EBM approach would, in fact, benefit the environment. This book provides the first detailed assessment of whether the EBM approach delivers in practice the environmental improvements and protection it promises in theory.

The first two chapters provide an overview of the author's approach, a detailed discussion of the concepts, and the empirical basis on which the benefits and shortcomings of the EBM approach were compared to the conventional regulatory approach. This introduction prepares the reader well for understanding the systematic analysis of the seven case studies that follow.

Four of the case studies examine prominent national EBM initiatives (Balcones Canyonlands Conservation Plan- Texas, San Diego Multiple Species Conservation Plan, Everglades Restoration Plan, and the California Bay-Delta Program), while three case studies examined somewhat parallel ecosystems (Sonoran Desert Conservation Plan- Arizona, Kissimmee River Restoration- Florida, and the Mono Basin Restoration- California), in which a more centralized regulatory approach was employed. Each case study was explored in depth and concludes with a summary of the successes and failures of the restoration approach.

The book ends with an excellent and provocative chapter that evaluates the benefits and drawbacks of EBM based on an integrated analysis of the seven case studies. An overlying conclusion is that the EBM goal of consensus led to compromise that severely constrained the environmental effectiveness of the accords and that political and economic interests tended to prevail over environmental interests. In other words, these EBM initiatives produced goals that opted for solutions that promised something for everyone.

In contrast, the three examples employing a more conventional approach with a regulatory component demonstrated more successful restoration outcomes. These projects aimed to achieve a single, preeminent goal of restoration as opposed to multiple goals associated with the collaborative, consensus-driven approach. The use of regulatory leverage and political capital greatly increased the likelihood of success in the restoration process. The analysis concludes by discussing practical implications of the findings and proposing changes that might improve the ability to promote environmentally beneficial outcomes.

This Based Management and the Environment book will be of interest to a broad audience that includes scholars, planners, administrators, elected officials, and advocates. It is a must read for professionals engaged in ecosystem restoration activities as much can be learned to enhance the outcome of complex ecosystem restoration projects involving a wide range of stakeholders with opposing goals.

The book is an appropriate text for a capstone course in environmental policy. As a textbook, the case studies will stimulate critical thinking, practical problem solving, and debate among students. The author delivers this analysis with a rigorous and balanced approach that is written in a style that is enjoyable and easily understood by the lay person.


Book Review: Natural Experiments– Ecosystem-Based Management and the Environment.
Source: Journal of Environmental Quality 2010 39:432-432

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