Ecology and natural resource management: reflections from a systems perspective
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I offer some reflections on ecology and natural resource management from a systems perspective. More specifically, I consider what the systems perspective offers to address current problems/opportunities in environmental education, ecological research, and natural resource management, and how systems thinkers in the international societies of ecological modeling, ecological engineering, ecological economics, and ecosystem health can help promote this perspective. Arguably the most critical problem that any of us face is recognizing causal relationships in the complex systems in which we work and live. The systems approach - the process of conceptualizing, quantifying, evaluating, and using a simulation model - allows us to identify causal relationships in complex systems that cannot be identified by other methods of problem solving. Within the context of environmental education, the systems approach facilitates integrative thinking, active versus passive learning, and unambiguous communication. Within the context of ecological research, the systems approach facilitates development of testable predictions through a synthesis of inductive and deductive reasoning. Within the context of natural resource management, the systems approach provides a basis for sustainable, multiple use of natural resources by facilitating multidisciplinary planning and creation of an effective communication interface between scientists and policy makers. Systems thinkers in our four societies need to be more assertive in promoting the systems perspective. I believe the only way to deliver the systems message effectively is through apprenticeships in which participants are involved actively in the process of developing and using system dynamics models under supervision of experienced modelers. Those of us at universities can supervise semester-long systems modeling projectS, either within the context of formal courses or as 'special problems' courses. But we need to explore additional ways of providing modeling apprenticeships to a wider audience. A format for delivering a useful initial exposure to the systems message beyond our home institution consists of intensive 2-5-day workshops conducted on-site at host institutions. Our experience suggests that workshop participants can include a multidisciplinary, multi-vocational mix of students, teachers, researchers, managers, policy makers, and other professionals. I challenge each of you to teach at least one such systems modeling workshop per year.
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