James R. Skillen. Federal Ecosystem Management: Its Rise, Fall, and Afterlife. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2015. xii + 348 pp. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-7006-2127-9.
Reviewed by Christine Reed (University of Nebraska, Omaha)
Published on H-Environment (May, 2016)
Commissioned by David T. Benac (Western Michigan University)
Many public administration scholars consider collaborative environmental governance to be an important corrective to top-down, hierarchical management of both natural resources and social services. Their reasons are many, but among the key arguments are the increasing complexity of “wicked” social and environmental problems and the need for federal agencies to engage a broader range of public- and private-sector actors in framing and solving those challenges. These arguments are especially salient in the area of ecosystem management, and the recent publication of Federal Ecosystem Management: Its Rise Fall and Afterlife is an important contribution to that broader discussion. Its author, James R. Skillen, leads readers through a perceptive historical analysis of how and why collaborative environmental governance arose during the 1990s and why it survives today. His analysis of ecosystem management (ESM) is a balanced assessment of its potential to reframe public discourse on a broader ecological scale.
The intellectual context of ESM includes transformations in both ecology and public administration. Chapter 1 provides an overview of those academic revolutions that is accessible to readers who may lack a scientific background. In the field of ecology, new approaches based on resilience theory replaced older equilibrium models, and modeled complex, nonlinear, and poorly understood ecosystems. As Skillen explains in subsequent chapters, federal agencies operating under multiple-use legal mandates like the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and Forest Service (FS) hoped to use ESM as a process to balance older models of resource management with growing public concern about protecting biodiversity. While agency scientists relied on ESM as a framework for assessing biodiversity, including listed species, public managers embraced ESM based on an intellectual shift in public administration from top-down management to collaborative governance.
The policy context of ESM, addressed in chapter 2, involved a major shift in policy from producing resources, such as grazing forage and timber, during the early twentieth century to an “ecological turn” culminating in passage of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in 1969 and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 1973. As Skillen explains, those signature laws drove major changes in federal land use agencies. The ESA broadened the scope of species protection from isolated enclaves, such as the national parks, to large-scale ecosystems, such as the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem with its endangered gray wolf--the subject of chapter 3. NEPA, on the other hand, expanded the scope of public participation in land-use decision making, especially through the requirement for input in land-use planning. While the ESA required specific agency guidelines, NEPA’s procedural requirements required federal agencies to use a broad ecological lens when assessing the environmental impacts of agency land-use plans, but without requiring any predetermined goals.
The central chapters in Skillen’s book are chapters 4 and 5, in which he shows how the Bush 1 and Clinton administrations applied substantive and procedural ESM to federal land-use policy. In particular, the Clinton administration advanced a collaborative model that fit with NEPA requirements. It is a significant feature of this model that it avoids predetermined ecological and economic goals. Moreover, in implementing the ESA, the Fish and Wildlife Service pledged to work cooperatively with other federal agencies. The Clinton administration carried this model into the Spotted Owl controversy in the Pacific Northwest, leading a successful collaborative effort to break the impasse caused by a federal court injunction against further logging in old-growth forests. Throughout this historical analysis, Skillen draws upon detailed accounts of federal land-use agency efforts to adopt ESM while meeting their multiple-use mandates. His carefully documented account reveals how and why federal agencies were unable to fulfill the promise of ESM. He ends, however, with the optimistic conclusion that ESM has left an important legacy, not only in the unprecedented scope of its scientific assessment but also in the way it has reframed public discourse on a broader ecological scale.
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Christine Reed. Review of Skillen, James R., Federal Ecosystem Management: Its Rise, Fall, and Afterlife.
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