Ecosystem Management:

Additional Actions Needed to Adequately Test a Promising Approach

RCED-94-111: Published: Aug 16, 1994. Publicly Released: Sep 19, 1994.

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Pursuant to a congressional request, GAO reviewed federal efforts to implement an ecosystem management approach, focusing on the: (1) additional actions that are needed to implement the approach; and (2) barriers to governmentwide implementation.

GAO found that: (1) all four of the federal land management agencies plan to develop and implement ecosystem approaches to managing their lands and natural resources; (2) the four federal land management agencies have worked cooperatively with each other and with state, local and private agencies to implement ecosystem management approaches; (3) the government has requested fiscal year (FY) 1995 funding for four ecosystem management pilot projects and is considering adopting a governmentwide ecological management approach; (4) the government needs to clarify the goals of ecosystem management before it can be fully implemented, define ecosystems and their ecologies, and make difficult management choices based on new information; (5) barriers to governmentwide implementation include the lack of ecological and socio-ecological data, federal interagency coordination, and cooperation between federal land management agencies and nonfederal interest groups; and (6) the four proposed pilot projects could be useful in identifying further implementation barriers and actions that are needed to further implement these efforts.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 1995, the task force issued its report which, among other things, clarified the policy goals for ecosystem management and established the relative priority to be given to maintaining or restoring minimum levels of ecosystem integrity and functioning relative to nonsustainable short-term uses.

    Recommendation: To effectively implement a governmentwide approach to ecosystem management, the Director of the White House Office on Environment Policy, through the Interagency Ecosystem Management Task Force, should develop a strategy that clarifies a policy goal for ecosystem management that specifies the priority to be given to maintaining or restoring minimum levels of ecosystem integrity and functioning relative to nonsustainable short-term uses, including commodity production.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office on Environment Policy

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In June 1995, the task force issued its report which, among other things, provides a strategy for ecosystem management implementation that identifies practical steps that must be taken by the federal agencies to address the key elements of an ecosystem management approach that were described in the GAO report.

    Recommendation: To effectively implement a governmentwide approach to ecosystem management, the Director of the White House Office on Environment Policy, through the Interagency Ecosystem Management Task Force, should develop a strategy that translates the principles in the administration's FY 1995 budget into practical steps that clearly identify what must be done and which agencies and parties must be involved, including: (1) delineating the boundaries of the geographic areas to be managed as ecosystems; (2) understanding their ecologies; (3) making management choices about desired future ecological conditions, about the types, levels, and mixes of activities that can be sustained, and about the distribution of activities over time among land units within the ecosystems; and (4) adapting management on the basis of new information.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office on Environment Policy

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: In its November 1995 report, the task force identified issues relating to budgeting, institutional approaches, public participation, scientific and information management, and legal authorities, and made recommendations to begin to address them.

    Recommendation: To effectively implement a governmentwide approach to ecosystem management, the Director of the White House Office on Environment Policy, through the Interagency Ecosystem Management Task Force, should develop a strategy that identifies barriers to governmentwide implementation of ecosystem management and specific statutory, regulatory, institutional, and procedural options for overcoming them.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office on Environment Policy

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: The President's budget requests for fiscal years 1996 and 1997 discuss some of the largest ecosystem management initiatives, providing Congress with information needed to reach decisions on these ecologically and socioeconomically important, but costly, environmental issues.

    Recommendation: To effectively implement a governmentwide approach to ecosystem management, the Director of the White House Office on Environment Policy, through the Interagency Ecosystem Management Task Force, should collectively assess and report the progress made in implementing this strategy in the pilot projects and other ecosystem management initiatives as part of the yearly budget and appropriations process.

    Agency Affected: Executive Office of the President: Office on Environment Policy

 

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