Achieving Integrative, Collaborative Ecosystem Management



Abstract: Although numerous principles have been identified as being important for successfully integrating social and ecological factors in collaborative management, few authors have illustrated how these principles are used and why they are effective. On the basis of a review of the ecosystem management and collaboration literature, we identified eight factors important for integrative, collaborative ecosystem management—integrated and balanced goals, inclusive public involvement, stakeholder influence, consensus group approach, collaborative stewardship, monitoring and adaptive management, multidisciplinary data, and economic incentives.We examined four cases of successful ecosystem management to illustrate how the factors were incorporated and discuss the role they played in each case's success. The cases illustrate that balancing social and ecosystem sustainability goals is possible. Collaborative efforts resulted in part from factors aimed at making plans economically feasible and from meaningful stakeholder participation in ongoing management. It also required participation in monitoring programs to ensure stakeholder interests were protected and management efforts were focused on agreed-upon goals. Data collection efforts were not all-inclusive and systematic; rather, they addressed the ecological, economic, and social aspects of key issues as they emerged over time. Economic considerations appear to be broader than simply providing economic incentives; stakeholders seem willing to trade some economic value for recreational or environmental benefits. The cases demonstrate that it is not idealistic to believe integrative, collaborative ecosystem management is possible in field applications.


Resumen: Aunque numerosos principios han sido identificados como importantes para la integración exitosa de factores sociales y ecológicos en la gestión cooperativa, pocos autores han ilustrado como son utilizados estos principios y porque son efectivos. Con base en una revisión de la literatura sobre gestión de ecosistemas y colaboración, identificamos cinco factores—metas integradas y balanceadas, inclusive participación pública, influencia de grupos de interés, estrategia de consenso en el grupo, gestión cooperativa, gestión adaptativa y monitoreo, datos multidisciplinarios e incentivos económicos—que son importantes para la gestión integradora y cooperativa de ecosistemas. Examinamos cuatro casos de gestión exitosa de ecosistemas para ilustrar como fueron incorporados los factores y discutimos el papel que jugaron en el éxito de cada caso. Los casos ilustran que el balance de metas de sustentabilidad social y ecológica es posible. En parte, los esfuerzos cooperativos resultaron de factores orientados a hacer que los planes fueran económicamente viables y de la participación significativa de grupos de interés en la gestión en curso. También se requirió la participación en programas de monitoreo para asegurar que los intereses de los grupos fueran protegidos y los esfuerzos de gestión se enfocaran en las metas acordadas. No todos los esfuerzos de recolecta de datos fueron incluyentes y sistemáticos, más bien, eran dirigidos a los aspectos ecológicos, económicos y sociales de temas clave a medida que emergían. Las consideraciones económicas parecen ser más amplias que simplemente proporcionar incentivos económicos, los grupos de interés parecen dispuestos a cambiar algo de valor económico por beneficios recreativos o ambientales. Los casos demuestran que no es idealista pensar que es posible aplicar la gestión integradora y cooperativa de ecosistemas en el campo.


Concepts of natural resource management have changed dramatically since the 1970s. Measures of growth, productivity, and species numbers are no longer primary indicators of management effectiveness. Now, broader, interdisciplinary concepts such as ecosystem management, adaptive management, sustainability, ecological integrity, and collaborative decision making are being applied. There is debate, however, concerning the scientific value, measurement, and practical use of such concepts. We considered two of these concepts: integrated ecosystem management and collaborative decision making.

Resource managers, ecologists, and social scientists disagree about whether it is possible to balance social and ecological benefits in ecosystem management (Grumbine 1994; Callicott 2000). Some suggest that meeting multiple goals is impossible because one cannot “maximize” more than one factor or variable at a time (Ludwig et al. 1993; Stanley 1995; Struhsaker 1998). Likewise, there is skepticism of the value of collaborative approaches to ecosystem management (Kenny 2000).

Results of recent studies indicate these criticisms may be unwarranted. There are several cases in which social and ecological factors have been combined successfully in natural resource management and in community-based collaborative approaches to ecosystem management (e.g., Wondolleck & Yaffee 2000; Meffe et al. 2002; Berkes et al. 2003; Rosenzweig 2003). These successful efforts have resulted in the identification of a large number of principles for conducting successful integrative and collaborative management. However, few have effectively illustrated how the principles are used and why they are effective. Among these principles, we sought to identify those that would form a set of generalizable and managerially relevant factors that are important for integrative, collaborative ecosystem management. On the basis of a review of the ecosystem management and collaboration literature, we identified eight factors: integrated and balanced goals, inclusive public involvement, stakeholder influence, consensus group approach, collaborative stewardship, monitoring and adaptive management, multidisciplinary data, and economic incentives. We then examined four cases of controversial resource-management situations in which environmental protection increased and no appeals or litigation followed. Through these cases, we illustrate how the eight factors were incorporated and discuss the role they played in each case's success.

Integrative Ecosystem Management and Collaborative Decision Making

The belief that social, cultural, and economic systems are intertwined with biological problems and their solutions is widely accepted by the conservation community. Authors from many disciplines have called for holistic, multidisciplinary approaches to conservation (e.g., Lee 1993; Cortner & Moote 1999; Meffe et al. 2002; Berkes et al. 2003). How to integrate these factors into conservation plans is still being debated.

Two conceptual models for integrating social, ecological, and economic considerations arose independently from sociology and ecosystem science. In 1960 Firey, a rural sociologist, argued that for a species-reintroduction plan to be successful it had to be ecologically possible, ethnographically adoptable, and economically gainful for local people (Tear & Forester 1992). Nearly 40 years later, Gilmore (1997), a natural resource scientist, argued that ecosystem management decisions should be ecologically sustainable, socially acceptable, and economically feasible. If ecosystems and human communities are interdependent, their sustainability must be managed simultaneously.

The key question is how to integrate?Cortner and Moote (1999) present two broad decision-based approaches to ecosystem management: trade-off and tension. Trade-off approaches may exacerbate management problems because socioeconomic or ecological concerns are prioritized to the extent that they dominate at the expense, or the exclusion, of the other. As a result, interested parties may become polarized and the decision-making environment is less amenable to compromise (Cortner & Moote 1999). Instead, a tension approach should be used, in which social, economic, and ecological goals are integrated and balanced such that managers attempt to meet them simultaneously. This approach requires collecting social, economic, and ecological baseline data, monitoring results over time, and conducting adaptive management (Lee 1993; Cortner & Moote 1999; Stankey et al. 2003).

Cortner and Moote (1999) also used the concept of tension to illustrate that balancing goals and management decisions is a political as well as a scientific process. Tension and trade-off are similar to Lee's (1993) concepts of the compass and gyroscope. Compass refers to the use of empirical data and adaptive management to help identify directions for environmental sustainability, and gyroscope refers to balancing competing human needs through democratic processes. Meffe et al. (2002) also expand the concept of integration to include decision making. In addition to balancing ecological and socioeconomic factors, they argue that ecosystem management must include the “institutional context.” Managers should strive for the “zone of win-win partnerships” through collaborative approaches, which they argue is the “the fundamental challenge of ecosystem management” (Meffe et al. 2002).

How is this done? Collaboration goes beyond “traditional” public involvement. In addition to being early (before decisions are made), inclusive, and interactive, collaboration requires joint decision making through consensus-based approaches (Gray 1989; Walker & Daniels 1996). A collaboration should not be bound by time; it should be ongoing through implementation and monitoring (Cortner & Moote 1999). This is the essence of collaborative stewardship. Stewardship is an integrative concept used to refer to stewardship of both the land and social communities that depend on the land (Leopold 1949; Callicott 2000). When local communities and other stakeholders are empowered through ongoing involvement in collaborative processes, participants can develop a sense of responsibility for the successful implementation of management plans and even govern their own actions to meet established goals (Kemmis 1990). Such stewardship, however, will not happen unless it is economically feasible for the management agency and other stakeholders.

From our literature review, we identified eight factors that are important for integrative, collaborative ecosystem management.

  • 1Integrated and balanced goals: Do managers attempt to identify and meet social, economic, and ecological goals simultaneously, such that all three categories benefit and the benefit is maintained over time (Firey 1960; Gilmore 1997; Meffe et al. 2002)? By creating an integrated balance among all three goal categories, management plans are more likely to be socially acceptable, economically feasible, and ecologically sustainable.
  • 2Inclusive public involvement: Does the process include all potential stakeholders, regardless of their relative size or influence (Cortner & Moote 1999; Daniels & Walker 2001)? Inclusive public involvement is essential to plans with broad-based support. Because it is often not possible to identify all relevant interests in management efforts, this factor will be based on the extent to which plans achieve broad-based support by stakeholders on all sides of the issues.
  • 3Stakeholder Influence: Is stakeholder input actually used and does it have real impact on final decisions, such that stakeholders are empowered through meaningful participation (Gray 1989; Walker & Daniels 1996; Cortner et al. 2001)? Joint decision making requires sharing the decision-making space with stakeholders. This can take many forms, from simply listening to stakeholder concerns and showing them how their input is used (informal power sharing) to setting up structures for the agency to work with stakeholders in decision and implementation processes (formal power sharing).
  • 4Consensus group approach: Do stakeholders meet as a group and use a consensus-based process for providing input (Cortner & Moote 1999; Wondolleck & Yaffee 2000; Daniels & Walker 2001)? By consensus, we mean an opinion or position reached by a group as a whole (agreement by a majority), not one primarily influenced by the agency or a few key stakeholders or one that requires unanimous approval. Consensus approaches seek a balance among a broad range of values and are thus a key element of collaborative processes.
  • 5Collaborative stewardship: Do stakeholders develop a sense of ownership for and become personally invested in the plan or decision (Kemmis 1990; Wondelleck & Yaffee 2000)? Stewardship is indicated if stakeholders actively participate in ongoing management efforts after decisions are made.
  • 6Monitoring and adaptive management: Do stakeholders agree to include monitoring in plan implementation and support future remedial actions needed to meet environmental and social goals (Gunderson & Holling 2002; Stankey et al. 2003)? Monitoring holds stakeholders accountable for evaluating management effectiveness and provides assurance that management efforts are focusing on agreed-upon goals.
  • 7Multidisciplinary data: Are ecological, social, and economic variables included during data collection, analysis, and monitoring? Multiple data types are valuable for identifying and balancing a broad range of values. Because understanding social acceptability is dependent on better processes of public involvement and collaboration and on the collection and inclusion of social science data (Lee 1993; Endter-Wada et al. 1998), funding and effort should be allotted to meet socioeconomic and ecological science needs.
  • 8Economic incentives: Do economic incentives exist for stakeholders, local communities, and agency partners to implement plans or decisions? Financial support is needed to cover plan implementation and monitoring costs and to provide assistance to those bearing the cost of management directives. Equity considerations are critical for developing long-term support for management plans (Firey 1960; Tear & Forester 1992; Gilmore 1997).

We examined four examples of natural resource management from the western United States to illustrate the importance of incorporating these factors in ecosystem management plans. Case summaries were based on interviews we conducted with key informants, planning and decision documents, and published media and academic accounts. Each case had to be considered a successful example of both conflict management and natural-resource protection by most of the stakeholders involved. To enhance the generalizability of findings, the cases had to represent a diversity of issues, scales, stakeholders, and ownerships. The four cases ranged in scale from site-specific to ecoregional, and topics ranged from endangered species protection to grazing, vegetation management, and recreation. Ownership types included federal, state, and private lands.

The four cases were (1) the Malpai Borderlands Group (ecoregional range-management issue), (2) the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve (landscape-level endangered species issue), (3) Maguire's primrose protection in Logan Canyon (landscape-level recreation and threatened plant conflict), and (4) protecting the Moab Sand Flats (site- and landscape-level recreation and vegetation management issue). All these cases involved controversial issues in which agreement emerged over time, environmental protection was increased, and the plans or decisions were implemented without appeals or litigation.

Malpai Borderlands Group

The Malpai Borderlands Group is a rancher-led, nonprofit organization developed to address the conflict between environmental groups opposed to livestock grazing and ranchers and government agency personnel supportive of livestock grazing on 323,749 ha of public and private land near the Mexican border in southern Arizona and New Mexico (Wolf 2001; Curtin 2002). Ranchers wanted to sustain their local agrarian livelihoods, and environmentalists wanted to protect the structure and function of the landscape (McDonald 2002). These two groups were locked in a cycle of conflict and litigation that significantly slowed management actions. Members of both sides failed to recognize commonalities among their goals for the borderlands area.

Eventually, two local ranchers realized that to conserve unfragmented open spaces a common goal was needed, and they organized meetings between local ranchers and environmentalists (McDonald 2002). Because of common concerns for conserving open space and improving rangeland conditions, the groups realized that mutual benefit would be gained by working collaboratively toward a shared goal. Over 5 years, the leaders of the Malpai Borderlands Group proactively engaged public involvement from all potential stakeholders including local ranchers, local and national environmental groups, academic organizations, and state and federal government representatives (Wolf 2001; McDonald 2002). By asking participants to set aside their immediate concerns and focus on what they wanted the landscape to look like in the future, the leaders of the Malpai Borderlands Group created a forum for open discussion that led to the development of a shared vision for preserved unfragmented open spaces and improved rangeland conditions (Wolf 2001; McDonald 2002).

The goals of the final management plan included preventing the subdivision of ranches for sale on the real-estate market and enhancing ranching livelihoods, restoring fire as an ecological process, and improving range condition and overall ecological health through science-driven adaptive management (Wolf 2001). These goals and the final plan were developed through collaborative consensus-based processes. Stakeholder groups shared the decision-making space via a formal power-sharing system that included a board of directors, advisory groups, and planning teams, all composed of representatives from each stakeholder group (Wolf 2001). In addition, management plans are peer reviewed by scientific experts (Wolf 2001). The management plan also includes multiparty monitoring, which is conducted by field crews that include a combination of professional biologists, local ranchers, local residents, and interns (Curtin 2002). Monitoring information is reviewed by the representative groups to determine if management goals are being met. To keep ranchers ranching during tight economic times, the plan includes economic incentives like “grassbanking,” conservation easements, and cost-share programs (Wolf 2001; McDonald 2002). The “grassbank” is the 320,000-ha Gray Ranch, which is managed by the Animas Foundation, a partner of the Malpai Borderlands Group (Wolf 2001; McDonald 2002). This foundation allows ranchers in the borderlands region to rest their land by allowing their cattle to graze on the Gray Ranch. In exchange for grazing privileges, participating ranchers sell conservation easements on their land to the Malpai Borderlands Group, who in return pays for the grass used by the cattle. The easement requires participating ranchers to rest their land from grazing as long as the rancher's cattle are grazing the grassbank lands. This is especially important during times of drought (Wolf 2001; McDonald 2002).

The collaboration helped develop a sense of stewardship within the local community, motivating some ranchers to devise their own ways of conserving threatened and endangered species on their property. For example, some local ranchers requested help from the University of Arizona to preserve habitat for the Chiricahua leopard frog (Rana chiricahuensis) (Curtin 2002). In addition, local ranchers who once shot jaguars seen on their property to prevent livestock mortalities, now take photographs when jaguars appear on their land (Wolf 2001). Because the Malpai Borderlands Group established a fund to compensate livestock owners in the event of a confirmed depredation by a jaguar, local ranchers can afford to help protect the jaguar and its habitat.

Desert Tortoise Wildlife Management Area: Red Cliffs Desert Reserve

The Red Cliffs Desert Reserve in southwestern Utah was 1 of 14 reserves established by the Desert Tortoise Recovery Plan to protect and recover the threatened Mojave population of the desert tortoise (Gopherus agassizii) (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service 1994). The reserve was to be located near St. George, Utah, one of the fastest-growing cities in the United States. Details for this case were provided by Bill Mader, administrator of the Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan for the threatened desert tortoise in southwestern Utah.

The creation of the reserve resulted in conflicts between urban development, recreation, and conservation of the desert tortoise. Developers were displeased with the economic uncertainty resulting from the listing and thought creating a reserve would dramatically restrict development. Environmental groups and recreationists supported the reserve, but recreationists wanted continued access. Those charged with the task of creating the reserve recognized that a partnership was needed to help avoid the polarized conflict of past desert tortoise conservation efforts (B. Mader, personal communication).

The leaders of the reserve convinced stakeholders to participate in the partnership by showing them mutual benefits were possible. For example, if they chose to participate, those who wanted to develop their land saw that they could develop thousands of acres, and environmentalists saw that the reserve they desired would become established. An effective partnership developed that involved numerous stakeholders on both sides of the issue, including local and national interests, federal and state agencies, local cities and towns, ranchers, utility companies, recreation groups, developers, biologists, and conservationists. To avoid getting trapped in inaction and mired in details, the leaders of the reserve focused on creating a plan that was flexible and adaptive and could be changed as the needs of the tortoise and the human community changed over time (B. Mader, personal communication).

The goals of the final plan included identifying thousands of acres of tortoise habitat outside the reserve that would remain open to development, creating the reserve by acquiring private properties within the reserve on a voluntary basis, providing recreational opportunities inside the reserve in areas that would have minimal impact on the tortoise, and preventing the loss of tortoises and habitat within the reserve (Washington County Habitat Conservation Plan Steering Committee and SWCA Environmental Consultants 1995; B. Mader, personal communication). These goals and the final plan were developed through consensus-based, collaborative decision-making processes. All stakeholders formally shared the decision-making space through the use of facilitators that were present during all meetings (B. Mader, personal communication).

Not only did the public have a meaningful voice in the process, they also aided in plan implementation and a multiparty monitoring program. For example, local recreation organizations installed trail markers and monitor the condition of trails. An advisory committee made up of representatives from local and national interests holds periodic public meetings to review and evaluate the plan's progress. This review process holds the individuals in charge accountable for delivering results within the time frame outlined by the plan (B. Mader, personal communication).

As of 2004, most stakeholders are actively involved in some aspect of the conservation plan. Although there are still some local residents who are concerned with the plan and the listing of the tortoise in general, fewer people participate in the public meetings because they have come to trust that the advisory committee will represent their interests (B. Mader, personal communication).

Protecting Maguire's Primrose in Logan Canyon

Maguire's primrose (Primula maguirei) is a federally threatened plant that is endemic to Logan Canyon, Cache County, Utah (Biotics Database 2005). Because the primrose grows primarily on rock ledges and outcroppings, wildlife officials and environmental groups asked the U.S. Forest Service to close Logan Canyon to rock climbing in the early 1990s. Predictably, rock climbers strongly opposed the action. Rather than forcing a trade-off between ecological protection and human use, Logan Ranger District staff invited local rock-climbing groups to participate in a collaborative effort.

A protection plan was developed after a series of meetings between Mead Hargis, a member of the Wasatch-Cache National Forest recreation staff, and members of the two local rock-climbing clubs. Their goal was to develop a plan that would protect the primrose and allow rock climbing to continue. After being revised to address concerns voiced at the meetings, the final plan was adopted following approval by a majority. The U.S. Forest Service agreed to close climbing routes only where the primrose was found, and the climbers agreed to map the plant's locations along all climbing routes and to develop an informational brochure that identified closed routes and explained the closure policy and low-impact climbing techniques. The climbers also agreed to remap primrose locations after 5 years to monitor effectiveness. If monitoring showed the primrose was negatively affected on other routes, those routes would be reduced or closed (M. Hargis, personal communication).

In the years following the decision to accept the plan, three routes were closed, the climbers created the informational brochures, and the Forest Service distributed the brochures at district offices. Relations between the climbers and the agency improved dramatically, and the climbers helped enforce the new policy by talking to violators and even reporting violations.

The ranger district revised the plan to meet social and ecological goals and actively collaborated with rock climbers in planning, data collection, and implementation. Because the climbers were willing to help implement the plan, this approach helped foster a sense of stewardship among climbers, and helped make implementation economically feasible for the district. Unfortunately, several years after the plan was developed, Hargis left the Logan Ranger District, the collaborative effort slowly faded, and the monitoring plan was never implemented. Current staff say they do not have the time or funding to continue such active collaborative efforts.

Protecting the Moab Sand Flats

Recreational use of the Slickrock Trail near Moab, Utah by mountain bikers increased dramatically from 300 rides in 1986 to 120,000 rides in 1998. Because the Slickrock Trail lies on Navajo Sandstone, recreational use of the trail itself results in relatively little impact to the landscape. Owing to the trail's popularity, however, dispersed camping increased dramatically in the nearby Sand Flats Recreation Area—a fragile, 2,930-ha landscape with sandy soil and semiarid vegetation (Van de Wetering 1996). The large number of recreationists also affected the local community and there were clashes between local residents and out-of-state tourists. These ecological and social impacts led environmental groups and local leaders to urge the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to reduce use on the Slickrock Trail in 1992. However, with the help of local citizen groups and university scientists, BLM managers identified another solution that would allow mountain biking use to increase while reducing the environmental, social, and economic impacts of the activity (Van de Wetering 1996; R. Von Koch, personal communication).

Before making specific recommendations, the BLM, Canyonlands Field Institute (a local outdoor science-education school) staff, and Utah State University scientists collected social and economic data in two visitor use surveys in 1993 and 1994. Results revealed that, despite the high use levels, there were no social conflicts or crowding issues among recreationists (Reiter & Blahna 2002). The bikers thought protecting the environment should be the most important management goal, and 86% were willing to pay a fee to use the Slickrock Trail, but most were opposed to restricting use.

On the basis of the survey results, BLM managers decided that rather than limiting use, they would use a visitor concentration and stakeholder collaboration strategy (Van de Wetering 1996; Reiter & Blahna 2002). During a series of collaborative, consensus-based meetings, the BLM worked with county officials and the Canyon Country Partnership (CCP), a local group of diverse stakeholders, to create a plan that would limit recreation dispersal and focus use much closer to the Slickrock Trail than the current, dispersed impact area. The CCP also recommended that Grand County charge a fee to access the area and use the revenues to support related environmental and recreational projects, making Grand County a “managing partner” with the BLM (Van de Wetering 1996).

To establish the fee program, local officials obtained an AmeriCorps grant, hired nine local residents to form the Community Sand Flats Team, produced a brochure to explain the fee program, and staffed a fee booth that the BLM built on state land at the entrance to the area. Another local group, the Citizens Stewardship Committee, advises the Grand County Council on the expenditure of the funds, and the BLM and the Community Sand Flats Team implement specific management projects. Some of the funds go to community expenses resulting from recreation use, such as search and rescue efforts, but most go to the BLM for management of recreation and ecological restoration projects in the Slickrock/Sand Flats area. The CCP reviews the BLM's recreation and ecological restoration projects to ensure they are accountable to stakeholder interests. The BLM has expanded and paved the parking lot and put in toilets. Campgrounds were built near the Slickrock Trail, and dispersed camping is limited to ecologically resistant areas (Van de Wetering 1996; R. Von Koch, personal communication).

Despite increasing use of the trail, the impact area has been dramatically reduced and concentrated in ecologically resistant areas. The majority of the Sand Flats landscape is being reclaimed with grasses and sagebrush. The response of local residents has been “very positive,” even among environmentalists and local “skeptics” (Van de Wetering 1996; R. Von Koch, personal communication). Revenue collected each year (over $220,000 in 2002) is used for both community and ecosystem sustainability projects, and made the plan economically feasible for over 10 years.

Use of the Eight Factors

Only the Malpai Borderlands Group included all eight factors important for integrative, collaborative ecosystem management (Table 1). The other cases, however, included a majority (at least six) of the factors.

Table 1.  Application of the eight factors deemed important for achieving integrative, collaborative ecosystem management in four natural resource management examples from western United States.
FactorMalpai Borderlands GroupRed Cliffs Desert ReserveMaguire's primroseMoab Sand Flats ecosystem
Integrated and balanced goalsXXXX
Inclusive public involvementXX 
Stakeholder influenceXXXX
Consensus group approachXXXX
Collaborative stewardshipXXXX
Monitoring and adaptive managementXXXX
Multidisciplinary dataXXXX
Economic incentivesX X

Despite the diversity of the cases, all of them illustrate that balancing social and ecosystem sustainability goals is possible. None of the projects maximized social or ecological goals, but all addressed an ecological problem and resulted in increased ecological sustainability while retaining or increasing social benefits. In all four cases, controversy was initially caused by a trade-off type of focus on either ecological (e.g., biological focus of the desert tortoise plan) or social (e.g., recreational use of the Moab Sand Flats) goals, and it was the balancing of social and ecological benefits that led to successful projects.

The clearest example of this is the Maguire's primrose case, in which the ecological or social trade-off alone was unacceptable. Initially, unregulated rock climbing (the existing social goal) caused an unacceptable impact on a threatened species (not ecologically sustainable). Political pressure led the Forest Service to consider closing the canyon to rock climbing to protect the plant (new ecological goal), but that was socially unacceptable. Selective route closure protected the primrose (ecological goal), allowed continued rock climbing (social goal), and led to collaborative efforts that made implementation economically feasible. This illustrates the conceptual and practical significance of integrated and balanced goals in ecosystem management. Although strict balance may be a generalization because the inclusion of socioeconomic and ecological factors is more likely to be a continuum, these examples may help practitioners understand and incorporate this ideal by demonstrating how balance can be applied in the field.

In all of the cases, decision processes were consensus based rather than top–down or agency driven (e.g., compromise resulting from traditional public involvement methods such as hearings and formal meetings). In addition, stakeholder input had a real impact on final decisions in all of the cases through either formal or informal systems for power sharing. Power sharing was informal yet very direct in the Maguire's primrose and Moab Sand Flats cases. These examples illustrate that relinquishing formal decision-making authority is not required for agencies to participate in long-term collaborative efforts. Rather, what is important is sharing the decision-making space with stakeholders so that collaborative efforts have a real impact on plans and decisions. For example, by having the county and local committees run and oversee the fee program, local stakeholders in the Moab Sand Flats case were able to play a meaningful role by directing investment in local community and ecological sustainability.

Although power was informally shared in Maguire's primrose and Moab Sand Flats, these cases were not inclusive because public involvement only included certain key stakeholders. However, those interests with a real stake in the outcome of management plans, particularly those who were critical of existing or proposed management, were proactively engaged and involved in both of these cases. This suggests that broad public involvement may not be required to successfully create integrative, collaborative ecosystem management efforts. Rather, the involvement of key stakeholders is what is critical. An honest review of the social and ecological impacts and controversies is important for understanding which stakeholders should be included (Endter-Wada et al. 1998).

The Malpai Borderlands Group and the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve not only included consensus-based decision processes but also empowered stakeholders by incorporating their input via formal systems of power sharing. In addition, these cases proactively engaged and included a large number of stakeholders on both sides of the issues. As a result, their management plans achieved broad-based support. Thus, only these two cases met the ideal of inclusive, consensus-based power sharing. The importance of achieving this ideal is best illustrated by the Malpai Borderlands Group. A wide range of stakeholders, including those that held power and the disenfranchised, successfully came together and had civil discourse, identifying common goals, and developing shared visions and new perspectives that allowed all sides to benefit to some extent. Because stakeholders played an important role in decision making and were involved in ongoing collaborative processes, they developed a sense of responsibility for the successful implementation of management plans. The sense of collaborative stewardship that developed resulted in local ranchers' adopting plan goals as their own. Consequently, some of the local ranchers were self-motivated to develop and adopt environmental-friendly management practices to conserve listed species. Thus, they governed their own actions to meet established management goals. This shift in management responsibility is critical because public support for management policies is required to protect ecosystems; government regulations and laws cannot do it alone (Cortner & Moote 1999). Collaborative stewardship probably would not have developed without the economic incentives that made it economical for local ranchers to adopt more environmental-friendly management practices.

The Malpai Borderlands Group, Red Cliffs Desert Reserve, and Moab Sand Flats cases have persisted over long periods of time. The longevity of these collaborative efforts appears to have resulted in part from the incorporation of programs aimed at making the plans economically feasible for agencies, participating stakeholders, or both, and from meaningful stakeholder participation in ongoing management efforts that include monitoring programs. In these cases, collaboration was not time bound (ending at plan adoption). Both the Malpai Borderlands Group and Red Cliffs Desert Reserve cases include multiparty monitoring processes in which stakeholders play a meaningful role. Although a multiparty monitoring program is not included in the case of Moab Sand Flats, local stakeholders do approve and review management projects. Thus, in all three examples, stakeholders participate in ongoing collaborative efforts to ensure their interests are protected and management efforts are focusing on agreed-upon goals. Consequently, a lasting sense of collaborative stewardship developed that has helped these efforts persevere. Without the ability to judge the soundness of management actions and change plans in response to evolving ecological, social, and economic needs, collaborative efforts may be more likely to decay.

Including multiple representatives from different stakeholder groups also appears to be important to the longevity of collaborative efforts. In the Maguire's primrose case, a sense of collaborative stewardship developed; however, the collaborative effort fell apart when a key agency staffer left the district. This suggests that collaborative efforts with ongoing and effective leadership are more likely to persevere. As Wondolleck and Yaffee (2000) put it, “Successful collaborative efforts usually have one or two individuals who have adopted a ‘we’re in this together' stance that sharply contrasts with previous adversarial interactions. They lead by example and model partnership behavior.”

Although multidisciplinary data were used in all the cases, data collection was not as systematic or holistic as Table 1 may imply. The Malpai Borderlands Group collected all three types of data as issues emerged over time. In the Maguire's primrose case, systematic biological data were collected, but social information regarding climbers emerged informally as part of the collaborative process. Systematic ecological data were collected for the original development of the habitat plans in the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve case, and later social and economic information emerged as a result of the conflict caused by the recommendations in the original plans. So, the social and economic data were less systematic and complete. The use of multidisciplinary data is perhaps the most interesting for the Moab Sand Flats case. Social and economic data were collected systematically, but the ecological effects, both before and after the plan was implemented, were so obvious that ecological data were not systematically collected. However, officials from the Moab Field Office use the Sand Flats reclamation as an example of ecological restoration of extreme recreation impacts (R. Von Koch, personal communication).

It appears that the specific data collected and used in planning and monitoring do not have to meet the ideal of being all-inclusive and systematically collected at the outset. Rather, it is important that data collection efforts address the ecological, economic, and social aspects of key issues as they emerge over time. This methodology keeps stakeholders informed about a plan's progress and provides information concerning plan-revision needs to meet evolving ecological, social, and economic interests. It also keeps data collection manageable, applicable, and collaborative, which helps reduce “analysis paralysis” (Lee 1993). In business management, this is called “actionable knowledge” (Argyris 1996).

Finally, economic incentives (where tangible economic benefits result for local communities or private landowners) were only an explicit part of two cases: the Malpai Borderlands Group and the Moab Sand Flats. Indirectly, however, economics played a critical role in all four cases. Potential economic losses were reduced and investments were protected for ranchers, developers, and local communities as a result of collaborative process for the Red Cliffs Desert Reserve case. These economic factors had been ignored in the original habitat recommendations (USFWS 1994), and although the outcome does not meet Firey's (1960) goal of being “economically gainful,” at least the final plans were less economically hurtful for local stakeholders. The Maguire's primrose case is an example of a collaborative process increasing economic feasibility (Gilmore 1997) through in-kind contributions of stakeholders. Although the rock climbers did not gain economically from the process, they did retain access to the resource for recreational pursuits—a social benefit.

These cases suggest that economic considerations are broader than simply providing economic incentives. Stakeholders may be willing to trade some economic value for recreational benefits such as access or environmental benefits, for example, wildlife protection. However, what individuals are willing to trade can only be determined by identifying social concerns, working collaboratively with stakeholders, and mitigating social impacts—that is identifying and managing social conflict rather than trying to avoid it, which is rarely effective (Lee 1993; Cortner & Moote 1999). Thus, the economic feasibility of a project may be enhanced, or even determined by, collaborative efforts. Likewise, as stated previously, management plans that are economically feasible may be more likely to develop a sense of collaborative stewardship among stakeholders and have staying power.


It is possible to create an integrated balance among social, economic, and ecological goals, but only as long as one does not dominate at the expense of the others. Creating an integrated balance requires incorporating many of the other seven factors. This illustrates use of the tension approach advocated by Cortner and Moote (1999) to operate within the “zone of win-win partnerships” (Meffe et al. 2002). It reflects the importance of compromise in achieving ecosystem management goals. Many of the public land conflicts and ecological problems of the last century arose because resource management decisions failed to balance social, economic, and ecological objectives. Through the 1970s, resource management often focused on meeting economic goals, and as a result, ecological and social benefits were lost. Similarly, plans that primarily focus on social (e.g., access) or ecological (e.g., species protection) goals, at the expense of other goals, will likely suffer a similar fate.

We hope the factors presented here help move the field in the direction of Rosenzwieg's “ecological reconciliation” (Rosenzweig 2003) and Leopold's “human harmony with nature” (Callicott 2000) approaches to ecosystem management, in which managers seek environmentally sound ways to manage lands for continued human use and “ecosystem health.” At a minimum, we hope the results fuel future applications of the factors and lead to additional research on the value and use of the factors.

Overall, the four examples demonstrate that the long-term benefits of successfully implementing integrative, collaborative ecosystem management outweigh the short-term difficulties associated with such efforts. Jack Shipley stated the case for community-based efforts best when he said, “If we function by conflict and competition, there will be winners and losers; but, if we work together, we can … create a new way of doing business” (Sustainable Northwest 1997). The cases reviewed here indicate this is not naïve idealism.


We thank the Jack H. Berryman Institute, Utah State University, the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station (approved as paper no. 7766), and the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station for supporting this project. We also thank the associate editor and anonymous reviewers whose insights greatly improved the quality of this manuscript.