Organizational and Legal Challenges for Ecosystem Management

Creating a Forestry for the 21st Century: The Science of Ecosystem Management, 1997

Posted: 3 Mar 2000

See all articles by Errol Meidinger

Errol Meidinger

University at Buffalo Law School


This article attempts to clarify the central organizational and legal challenges confronting efforts to establish ecosystem-based management of natural resources in the U.S. It first summarizes the general organizational requirements of ecosystem management, including coordinated information gathering and analysis, coordinated management, and social learning and adaptation. Next it describes the overall structure of land ownership in the US and the primary kinds of legal mandates under which land managers operate. It argues that the ideal of ecosystem management is too general and discretionary to be translated directly into a legal mandate, and that therefore ecosystem management must be understood as dependent on the interactions of many legal and institutional factors. It then describes alternative models of organizational management available to land holders, including various forms of bureaucratic, matrix, project oriented, and loosely coupled organization. Finally it reviews several specific kinds of laws, including public land management statutes, administrative laws, antitrust laws, and takings law, that are likely to have significant effects on efforts to undertake ecosystem management. The article concludes that while existing laws need not prevent the emergence of ecosystem management, they are likely to make it difficult. Creative strategies and a certain amount of risk taking will be necessary in the near term. It will probably take a long time for the laws to adapt to the changed organizational relationships required by ecosystem management.

Suggested Citation

Meidinger, Errol, Organizational and Legal Challenges for Ecosystem Management. Creating a Forestry for the 21st Century: The Science of Ecosystem Management, 1997. Available at SSRN:

Errol Meidinger (Contact Author)

University at Buffalo Law School ( email )

520 O'Brian Hall
Buffalo, NY 14260-1100
United States
716-645-6692 (Phone)
716-645-2064 (Fax)

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