Why Resilience May Not Always Be a Good Thing: Lessons in Ecosystem Restoration from Glen Canyon and the Everglade
Nebraska Law Review, Vol. 87, p. 893, 2009
57 Pages Posted: 18 Jul 2009
Date Written: July 1, 2009
Designers and managers of ecosystem restoration plans face a significant challenge in recognizing and navigating the interplay between, and constraints imposed by, both the sociopolitical and biophysical worlds. By weaving ecological principles and legal analysis together, this article sheds light on the successes and failures of two landmark restoration projects: the Grand Canyon of the Colorado River and the Florida Everglades. These projects share common goals - to restore degraded habitat and to maintain water supplies. In the Grand Canyon, modest successes have been achieved through an adaptive management program that attempts to calibrate social and ecological objectives, while at the same time learning from bold experimentation and actively adapting management approaches. In the Everglades, however, the restoration plan has generated reams of scientific research but attempts to engage in actual restoration experiments and to adapt management approaches have gotten bogged down in the social, legal, and political domains, and as a result the Everglades plan has accomplished very little.
The article focuses on three elemental ingredients of ecosystem restoration. The first is the emergent system property of resilience, which is the ability “to persist, buffer, and adapt to recurrent shocks without fundamentally changing, often unpredictably, into highly altered systems.” Resilience is a concept that describes a more complex model of change and restoration than conventional resource management goals related to maximizing social uses and achieving optimum yields of resource outputs. A second significant factor in achieving restoration goals is legislation and other legal requirements, which can either enable or constrain ecosystem restoration. The Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992 and the Everglades provisions of the Water Resources Development Act of 2000 specifically authorize restoration. At the same time, existing, generally applicable legislation, such as the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act, adds to the complexities of ecosystem restoration. The third factor involves the administration of legislation through agencies’ initiatives and public participation, particularly stakeholder involvement. Whether combative, collaborative, or somewhere in between, the participants’ commitment to experimentation and adaptation in the implementation of a restoration plan has a profound influence on the speed and trajectory of restoration success or failure.
Keywords: Resilience, Adaptive Management, Ecosystem Management, Restoration, Water, Endangered Species
JEL Classification: K32
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation