What Does Ecosystem-Based Management Mean in the U.S. Arctic?

Ecosystem-based management (EBM) offers a promising management tool for addressing cumulative impacts from multiple stressors in the U.S. Arctic. Arctic Ocean ecosystems are experiencing rapid environmental change, such as changing sea ice conditions, reducing important habitat for Arctic species and presenting challenges to traditional subsistence practices. At present the Arctic is largely lacking major in-situ anthropogenic stressors, but because of the changing environmental conditions, there is increased interest in industrial activities. Potential sources of anthropogenic-based threats in the Arctic include: offshore oil/gas activity, tourism, fisheries, vessel activity, hunting, and environmental contaminants (Huntington 2009).

Environmental analyses in the US claim to examine the effects of cumulative impacts, yet in practice the impact for each activity within each sector (e.g., a fishery management plans) and often times within each sector by each company (e.g., seismic testing, exploration plans) largely is examined on its own. Threats from human activity or environmental change may act independently on species and habitats, but many impacts may be additive and/or synergistic. Currently, stock assessments do not account for all risk-factors. The human role in the ecosystem is often ignored or minimized, as is input from sources such as local and traditional knowledge.

We propose that one possible solution is scenario planning similar to that used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that would provide modeling tools to examine stress-thresholds in Arctic ecosystems, and project when those might be crossed. In this presentation we examine what the EBM concept promises for the Arctic, provide some examples how EBM might make a difference to single sector and single species management, and discuss how it might be implemented in practice. Implementation in advance of large-scale industrial activity would provide maximum conservation benefits for Arctic species such as walrus and better involvement by and consideration of the people whose subsistence way of life depends upon a healthy, functioning ecosystem. We believe further keys to successful management will include periodic synthesis and continual learning and adjustment (i.e., adaptive management).

What do we mean by Ecosystem-Based Management?

  • Ecosystem-based management plans or planning, while not a new concept, is becoming much more widely regarded and practiced (Kidd et al, 2011, McLeod and Leslie 2009, NPFMC 2007).
  • Achieving ecosystem-based management requires attention not just to the management targets (e.g., walrus or fish stocks) but also other interactions, the anthropogenic activity, and the ecosystem.
  • Ecosystem-based management applied to resource management could be characterized as the penultimate step of a progression that begins with single-species management and ends with full marine ecosystem management (Table immediately below). These are not discrete steps but rather are reference points on a continuum (Sea Grant 2010).

Ecosystem-Based Management

The Promise of Ecosystem-Based Management

  • Management of a full range of human impacts offers a better way to examine activity in the Arctic, because of the opportunity of combining multiple stressors currently present and forecasted to increase: climate change, offshore oil and gas activity, vessel traffic, fisheries.
  • Cumulative impacts experienced by one species over geography or over time (e.g., USGS 2011). This is most apparent for migratory species, which may be harvested or have their habitats destroyed in distant locations, thus undermining any actions taken in one area considered.
  • An integral component of ecosystem-based management in addition to recognizing ecological interactions, is the management of human activities and their interaction within the environment (e.g., McLeod and Leslie 2009). In this light, decision-making tools and strategies to address trade-offs and to evaluate outcomes of human activities on ecosystems are important components of management.
  • An essential element in ecosystem-based management is the integration of governance (Agardy 2011, Enemark et al. 2011, McLeod and Leslie 2009), and in the Arctic, this includes indigenous residents that depend on the Ocean for a way of life. Any governance framework needs to incorporate consultation well in advance of management and includes a strategy for sharing information and providing feedback about indigenous resident's concerns.
  • Scenario planning is a decision-making tool that can help envision future outcomes and decide among current management options and data.

Data Needs for Scenario Planning

Data Needs for Scenario Planning

What is Needed for Implementation?

  • Integration of science - a key to success is bringing together and assessing jointly scientific undertakings (Agardy 2011, Enemark et al. 2011) such as collecting information needs/data from Table 2
  • Filing in key gaps in knowledge, and ensuring that because one information need seems apparently less important for the management question it does not fall through the cracks if it is an important data need for another management question.
  • Integrating traditional knowledge throughout the process and ensuring adequate consultation with local, indigenous communities. For example, traditional knowledge could help fill gaps where adequate data may be absent in scenario planning.
  • Acknowledge cross-sectorial tradeoffs - such that should scenario-planning find that x-amount of noise threshold may not be crossed; the x-amount of noise is allocated "fairly" across sectors.
  • Cross-sectorial, interagency, and trans-boundary cooperation is needed. Ecosystem boundaries may not match the boundaries of political jurisdiction. Regulations covering part of an ecosystem may not be sufficient to achieve overall management goals. Thus, some degree of collaboration or cooperation may be required between jurisdictions.

For more information:

Raychelle Daniel, 725 Christensen Drive, Ste 4, Anchorage, AK 99501; 907-258-0226; rdaniel@pewtrusts.org
Henry Huntington, 23834 The Clearing Drive, Eagle River, AL 99577; 907-696-3564; hhuntington@pewtrusts.org

Media Contact: Christine Fletcher 202.540.6908

Topics: Oceans, Environment

Project: Protecting Life in the Arctic