An appraisal of management pathologies in the Great Lakes
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Recent research has produced broad application of the health concept to regional ecosystems, including the Great Lakes. The attention is warranted, as new and recurring stresses on the health of the Great Lakes undermine our understanding and hinder our ability to manage and restore critical ecological functions. There is widespread agreement that the Great Lakes are presently exhibiting symptoms of extreme stress and potentially irreversible and catastrophic damage. Historical command and control management has resulted simultaneously in environmental benefits to people and a loss of resilience in Great Lakes ecosystems. Surprising system responses often prompt further control, and the continued decline in resilience has been called the pathology of natural resource management. The pathology is also suggested to affect human systems of organization such as management authorities. We use published criteria of institutional pathologies and illustrate their occurrence in the Great Lakes with evidence of non-existent program evaluation, program incompatibility, lack of coordination among programs, authorities that establish and then abandon public participatory initiatives, and inappropriate choice of policy mechanisms or inadequate level of support for an appropriate mechanism (either of which creates disincentives for stakeholders). Learning is an element of resilience, as managed systems are inherently dynamic and our understanding is therefore always incomplete. Policy mechanisms that mimic learning techniques to improve understanding are therefore central to avoiding pathologies in management. But learning (individually or institutionally) can be threatening and very difficult, and its proper conduct necessarily involves a continuous process of feedback, interpretation, and reformulation. Double-loop learning processes that institutionalize learning in policy are recommended, as these will be required to overcome pathologies in management and maintain resilience of the Great Lakes system.
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