Ecosystem Management in Question: A Reply to Ruhl

10 Pages Posted: 19 Sep 2006

See all articles by Bruce Pardy

Bruce Pardy

Queen's University - Faculty of Law


In "Changing Nature: The Myth of the Inevitability of Ecosystem Management," 20 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 675 (2003), I challenged the widely held view that ecosystem management (EM) is the only environmental strategy now possible. "Ecosystem management may in some circumstances be the best of the policy options to deal with a particular environmental problem, but to describe it as the only choice available is not accurate," the article stated, "[i]f ecosystem management does become inevitable, it will not be because of nonequilibrium or the absence of pristine systems, but because ecosystem management itself has altered systems past the point of no return."

In "The Myth of What Is Inevitable Under Ecosystem Management: A Response to Pardy," 21 Pace Envtl. L. Rev. 315 (2004), Professor J.B. Ruhl objected to my objections and reasserted EM's status as the only legitimate environmental strategy. In this article, I reply to Professor Ruhl's objections. Advocates of EM are often adamant about the pre-eminence of their approach, but it is not easy to find the logical basis for their faith. EM is a choice. There are other choices too. Those who advocate EM should be expected to justify, coherently and persuasively, why it is the best of the choices - why it is necessary to place environmental futures in the hands of a professional elite empowered to shape conditions one ecosystem at a time as it sees fit according to its own technical or political judgment. The discretionary nature of EM leads to utilitarian decisions based upon "balancing" of interests, and thus to incremental ecosystem change. EM prevents environmental law from becoming a coherent, predictable discipline. The most effective excuse for arbitrary environmental decisions is to maintain at the outset that each case must be based on its own particular circumstances. In other words, the best way to acquire undemocratic control over environmental conditions is to insist that EM is inevitable.

Keywords: Ecosystem management, environmental law, environmental regulation, rule of law, environmental utilitarianism

JEL Classification: K32

Suggested Citation

Pardy, Bruce, Ecosystem Management in Question: A Reply to Ruhl. Pace Environmental Law Review (PELR), Vol. 23, p. 209, 2006. Available at SSRN:

Bruce Pardy (Contact Author)

Queen's University - Faculty of Law ( email )

Macdonald Hall
Kingston, Ontario K7L 3N6
613-533-6000 Ext. 77570 (Phone)
613-533-6509 (Fax)


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