From the Forest to the Sea: Lessons in Managing Public Space
In 2004, a report from the U.S. Commission on Ocean Policy documented a broad range of ecological problems in U.S. ocean waters, including declining fish stocks, changes in marine biodiversity, coastal habitat loss, and hypoxic "dead zones," as well as related governance problems, such as uncoordinated and contradictory laws, underfunded programs, and conflicts between local, state, and federal priorities. The Commission's recommendations for improvement revolved around the themes of ecosystem-based management, improved agency coordination, and regional flexibility.
One recommendation in particular stated that, "Congress ... should establish a balanced, ecosystem-based offshore management regime that sets forth guiding principles for the coordination of offshore activities." Five years later, President Obama instructed an interagency taskforce to develop a "framework for effective coastal and marine spatial planning" to help achieve the goals of that recommendation and, in 2012, nine Regional Planning Bodies were established to begin the planning process.
Not everyone has embraced marine spatial planning (MSP) as a desirable next step in ocean management. Some ocean industries worry that MSP could interfere with economic priorities. New users, such as offshore windfarm developers, fear that extended planning will further delay their activities. Members of Congress have complained that MSP policy lacks adequate legislative underpinnings. Still others worry
that MSP may be a solution in search of a problem, diverting money and attention away from more immediate ocean challenges. Equally worrisome, the policy research community has yet to provide solid theoretical or historical support for the presumed efficacy of MSP in U.S. ocean waters. In light of the recent, rapid adoption of MSP and the questions surrounding it, more rigorous examination is in order.
This study contributes to that examination in two ways. First, it places MSP within the broader context of research and practice in fields such as policy analysis, common-pool resource theory, institutional analysis, planning and design, community engagement, and conflict resolution. Second, it looks at the history of U.S. public lands--a public space that has been accommodating multiple uses and conservation for over a century--as a comparative model.
This approach results in three research questions:
1) Are U.S. public lands and the U.S. EEZ sufficiently similar, based on characteristics most relevant to policy analysis, that successes and failures in one arena might be relevant to the other?
2) If so, has over a hundred years of active public land management in the U.S. produced any lessons for success that might be applicable to the more recently developing field of ocean management, particularly with respect to multiple-use planning and management? and
3) If the settings are similar in meaningful ways, and if lessons can be distilled from public lands management, how might these be transposed, or operationalized to inform the current drive for more integrated ocean management, particularly through the tool of marine spatial planning?
A critical review and synthesis of U.S. public land studies, particularly regarding the history of the National Forests, comprises one important element of the study. This is supplemented with case studies, site visits, detailed analyses of government documents related to both land and ocean management, and extensive formal and informal interviews with key informants in the National Forest and ocean management communities.
The study results answer the first two questions in the affirmative and conclude that sustainable, multiple-use management of government-controlled spaces and resources inevitably requires tradeoffs between numerous competing objectives. These tradeoffs can rarely be resolved through objective decision analysis and will rely implicitly or explicitly on value judgments. Using forest history as a model, it appears that the most significant choices to be made by ocean policy makers will revolve around: 1) the scale of problem definition and resolution; 2) the relative emphasis on political, technocratic, judicial, or participatory decision-making; and 3) the extent of flexibility allowed. Specific suggestions are made for how elected officials, agency staff, environmental organizations, industry, and academia can approach ocean management in a way that reflects a variety of interests, advances understanding, and achieves sustainable and productive ocean ecosystems.
marine spatial planning
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