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      A general framework for analyzing sustainability of social-ecological systems.

      Science (New York, N.Y.)

      Systems Theory, Sociology, Social Environment, Public Policy, Humans, Ecology, Conservation of Natural Resources, Animals

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          Abstract

          A major problem worldwide is the potential loss of fisheries, forests, and water resources. Understanding of the processes that lead to improvements in or deterioration of natural resources is limited, because scientific disciplines use different concepts and languages to describe and explain complex social-ecological systems (SESs). Without a common framework to organize findings, isolated knowledge does not cumulate. Until recently, accepted theory has assumed that resource users will never self-organize to maintain their resources and that governments must impose solutions. Research in multiple disciplines, however, has found that some government policies accelerate resource destruction, whereas some resource users have invested their time and energy to achieve sustainability. A general framework is used to identify 10 subsystem variables that affect the likelihood of self-organization in efforts to achieve a sustainable SES.

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          Most cited references 9

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          The struggle to govern the commons.

          Human institutions--ways of organizing activities--affect the resilience of the environment. Locally evolved institutional arrangements governed by stable communities and buffered from outside forces have sustained resources successfully for centuries, although they often fail when rapid change occurs. Ideal conditions for governance are increasingly rare. Critical problems, such as transboundary pollution, tropical deforestation, and climate change, are at larger scales and involve nonlocal influences. Promising strategies for addressing these problems include dialogue among interested parties, officials, and scientists; complex, redundant, and layered institutions; a mix of institutional types; and designs that facilitate experimentation, learning, and change.
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            Beyond panaceas in water institutions

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              Insights on linking forests, trees, and people from the air, on the ground, and in the laboratory.

              Governing natural resources sustainably is a continuing struggle. Major debates occur over what types of policy "interventions" best protect forests, with choices of property and land tenure systems being central issues. Herein, we provide an overview of findings from a long-term interdisciplinary, multiscale, international research program that analyzes the institutional factors affecting forests managed under a variety of tenure arrangements. This program analyzes satellite images, conducts social-ecological measurements on the ground, and tests the impact of structural variables on human decisions in experimental laboratories. Satellite images track the landscape dimensions of forest-cover change within different management regimes over time. On-the-ground social-ecological studies examine relationships between forest conditions and types of institutions. Behavioral studies under controlled laboratory conditions enhance our understanding of explicit changes in structure that affect relevant human decisions. Evidence from all three research methods challenges the presumption that a single governance arrangement will control overharvesting in all settings. When users are genuinely engaged in decisions regarding rules affecting their use, the likelihood of them following the rules and monitoring others is much greater than when an authority simply imposes rules. Our results support a frontier of research on the most effective institutional and tenure arrangements for protecting forests. They move the debate beyond the boundaries of protected areas into larger landscapes where government, community, and comanaged protected areas are embedded and help us understand when and why deforestation and regrowth occur in specific regions within these larger landscapes.
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                Author and article information

                Journal
                10.1126/science.1172133
                19628857

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