The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the only federal agency with a
primary mission of conserving fish and wildlife resources and habitat, is
in the midst of substantive change. This change revolves around the
concept of the Ecosystem Approach to Fish and Wildlife Conservation.
Ecosystem management, ecosystem approach, holistic landscape-scale
management, and other related concepts have multiple interpretations, both
biologically and sociopolitically. These interpretations and
misinterpretations have major implications for those who advocate, lead,
and manage change.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS or Service) became in 1994-95 a
lead federal agency in articulating and implementing An Ecosystem
Approach to Fish and Wildlife Conservation. This action was part of a
major federal initiative within the Executive Branch to revise government.
The Service began work on the management concept in 1992 under the heading
"biodiversity management" and in 1993 shifted to ecosystem management
terminology. In 1994, the FWS Directorate adopted the concept of ecosystem
management. By 1995, a formal Ecosystem Approach terminology and Service
concept document were adopted.
On December 15, 1995, the Service (via signature of the U. S.
Department of the Interior) formally joined with other federal agency
partners in a "Memorandum of Understanding to Foster the Ecosystem
Approach." The memorandum defines the ecosystem approach as:
A method for sustaining or restoring ecological systems and their
functions and values. It is goal driven and it is based on a
collaboratively developed vision applied within a geographic framework
defined primarily by ecological boundaries. (Section 1
The goal of the Ecosystem Approach as stated in this interagency
memorandum, was to:
restore and sustain the health, productivity, and biological
diversity of ecosystems and the overall quality of life through a natural
resource management approach that is fully integrated with social and
Former Service Director Mollie Beattie (1996: 696-699) clearly
articulated the Service's philosophy and action orientation in the journal
Ecological Applications by stating:
Although many in the Service have been following some of these
principles for years, formal adoption of an ecosystem approach has
involved a shift in management focus beyond immediate, local problems and
beyond political boundaries. To emphasize this change of focus, the
Service delineated 53 ecosystem units based essentially on U. S.
Geological Survey watersheds. These units provide a framework around which
to mobilize staff resources, organize budgets and help break down program
barriers. But the Service has not simply traded in one set of boundaries
for another. The management issues, the stakeholders and other interested
parties and the ecological processes involved all influence the area to be
studied and to which a management strategy will apply .
It is important to realize the Service is not abandoning its
traditional activities and partners. We will still establish refuges to
protect habitat and fish and wildlife populations in jeopardy, restore
habitats, reduce environmental degradation and contamination, regulate the
harvest of migratory birds, and provide technical assistance to private
landowners. However, we are modifying our actions and encompassing them
into a broader, overriding philosophy. The Service is accomplishing its
objectives in a more coordinated fashion with greater input from a broader
array of partners. We are also integrating information across multiple
levels of organization. For example, a critically endangered species may
still need immediate actions taken specifically to prevent its extinction,
but at the same time, we will address the causes that led to its
endangerment, which will ultimately help limit the necessity of future
species listings under the Endangered Species Act.
This philosophy is in keeping with ecosystem science and management
perspectives presented by the Ecological Society of America and by other
federal agencies. The philosophy is also in keeping with a dominant social
shift, in which stakeholding communities (place-based), and other
stakeholders of interest are demanding a role in managing natural
resources. This "ecosystem thinking and acting" philosophy also recognizes
that federal resource management agencies need political support, moral
support, and community/user cooperation to manage federal lands and to
achieve nationwide goals.
The Service's Ecosystem Approach to Fish and Wildlife Conservation (February 1995) fully outlines the approach and articulates its goal as "the effective conservation of natural and biological diversity through perpetuation of dynamic, healthy ecosystems." This document evolved from a three year process involving stakeholders both internal and external to the Service.
Conceptually, the adoption and implementation of the Ecosystem Approach was intended to:
The various organizational levels were charged to work together to:
The approach, as a new concept, is more evolutionary than
revolutionary. Ecosystem approach strategies that had shown promise in the
past--teams, area office type activities, stakeholder relations and
partnering, and cross boundary activities--were reorganized and
incorporated as part of this holistic management thrust. New, however, was
that these strategies were now the norm, not the exception, in the
Service's way of conducting business.
Although the Ecosystem Approach may have been well conceptualized,
limited guidance for implementation planning was provided. Implementation
planning responsibility was placed at the regional level and regions were
given the leeway to implement the cross-program teams, ARD/GARD positions,
and the approach philosophy in a manner they deemed most appropriate.
Philosophically, the Service, according to Clarke and McCool (1997) was
in less than an ideal state organizationally to make the substantive
changes called for in an ecosystem approach. The authors characterized the
Service as being "over committed" and poorly staffed and funded for the
multiple mandates it had been given (Clarke and McCool, 1997). The Service
was also dealing with downsizing and streamlining while trying to
implement the Ecosystem Approach.
Responsibilities added to the Service mandate over the last two-plus
decades, e.g., wetland protection and Endangered Species Act, although
appropriate and useful management tools, added stress to the organization.
Factors such as government downsizing, the societal trend of demanding
more responsive government (with fewer real dollars), and political
controversy over the role of federal government in resource management
have the potential to disrupt the Service's efforts to change. Even today,
Service personnel have great difficulty separating the impacts of the
Ecosystem Approach from those of downsizing and other changes.
An agency that manages ninety-two million acres of the federal estate
and numerous off-federal lands activities and is part of a one hundred
billion dollar wildlife and fisheries related industry must be proactive.
Such was the case when the Service made the commitment to test a new,
rapidly evolving philosophy of management.
The Service did not enter this approach with a lack of knowledge of its
organizational stresses. In fact, the Service has been characterized
(Clarke and McCool 1997:107) as holding "the dubious honor of having the
most chaotic organizational history" of the seven federal resource
management organizations examined in their study. A history dating back to
1871 and a series of both introspective and externally driven assessments
have left the Service with a good knowledge of its corporate culture.
Outlined in Section IB is an evaluation history enumerating the various
issues the Service has attempted to assess both formally and informally.
As part of that ongoing commitment to meet resource needs and societal
demands, the Service deemed it appropriate to conduct a formative
assessment of its Ecosystem Approach. From the outset of the Ecosystems
Approach, evaluation has been called for because of the recognition that
change is evolutionary and adjustments will be needed. Because the
Ecosystem Approach is too new to have generated measurable fish and
wildlife resource effects, proxy measures will need to be found.
In May 1997, Acting Service Director John Rogers advised all employees
that a formal evaluation of the approach would begin in 1997 with an
Oversight Committee guiding the activity. (See Appendix I for members).
Rogers outlined the organizational issues, as identified earlier by the
Geographic Assistant Regional Directors, as:
These initial issues and further reflection resulted in an evaluation
contract with The Ohio State University (see Appendix II for contract).
As the evaluation began, a new Service Director, Jamie Rappaport-Clark,
was appointed. In her formal swearing-in ceremony on September 16, 1997,
Director Clark referred to the "difficult stretch" the Service has been
through in recent years and affirmed that the Service is fully capable of
and committed to carrying out its mission.
As the Service seeks to assess its effectiveness with the Ecosystem
Approach, it is moving forward with strategic planning for the 21st
century. On September 30, 1997, the Service submitted its Strategic Plan
in compliance with the Government Performance and Results Act (GPRA). The
Strategic Plan commits the Service to managing for:
1) the stability of fish and wildlife populations nationwide;
Collectively, these goals, a myriad of legal mandates, societal expectations, and natural resource challenges create numerous ecosystem related opportunities and challenges. This assessment is one attempt among many by the Service to seize on the opportunities associated with ecosystem thinking/landscape scale management and avoid as many of the pitfalls as possible.
Continue to the next part of Section I: Evaluation History