Command and Control and the Pathology of Natural Resource Management
As the human population grows and natural resources decline, there is pressure to apply increasing levels of top-down, command-and-control management to natural resources. This is manifested in attempts to control ecosystems and in socioeconomic institutions that respond to erratic or surprising ecosystem behavior with more control. Command and control, however, usually results in unforeseen consequences for both natural ecosystems and human welfare in the form of collapsing resources, social and economic strife, and losses of biological diversity. We describe the “pathology of natural resource management,” defined as a loss of system resilience when the range of natural variation in the system is reduced encapsulates the unsustainable environmental, social, and economic outcomes of command-and-control resource management. If natural levels of variation in system behavior are reduced through command-and-control, then the system becomes less resilient to external perturbations, resulting in crises and surprises. We provide several examples of this pathology in management. An ultimate pathology emerges when resource management agencies, through initial success with command and control, lose sight of their original purposes, eliminate research and monitoring, and focus on efficiency of control. They then become isolated from the managed systems and inflexible in structure. Simultaneously, through overcapitalization, society becomes dependent upon command and control, demands it in greater intensity, and ignores the underlying ecological change or collapse that is developing. Solutions to this pathology cannot come from further command and control (regulations) but must come from innovative approaches involving incentives leading to more resilient ecosystems, more flexible agencies, more self-reliant industries, and a more knowledgeable citizenry. We discuss several aspects of ecosystem pattern and dynamics at large scales that provide insight into ecosystem resilience, and we propose a “Golden Rule” of natural resource management that we believe is necessary for sustainability: management should strive to retain critical types and ranges of natural variation in resource systems in order to maintain their resiliency.