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Natural resources -- Management, Ecosystem services, Ecosystem management


Two decades of research into the management of what economists call common-pool resources suggests that, under the right conditions, local communities can manage shared resources sustainably and successfully. These revolutionary findings challenge the long-held belief in the "tragedy of the commons." Instead, we have found that tragedy is not inevitable when a shared resource is at stake, provided that people communicate. In many places—from Swiss pastures to Japanese forests—communities have come together for the sake of the environment and their own long-term well-being. Common-pool resources have two features: first, they are shared resources whose use by one person makes them less available for use by another; second, it is typically very difficult to limit the public’s access to them (through laws or physical barriers). Many, but not all, ecosystem services can be categorized as common-pool resources. Consider, for instance, the clean water provided by an intact watershed, the pollination provided by a community of bees, or the carbon sequestration provided by a healthy forest. These are public goods, but individual use can degrade a watershed or strip a forest, compromising these benefits for all. As we look to develop institutions to better manage ecosystem services, and ensure their resilience over time, we can benefit from the lessons learned in the management of common-pool resources. The principles below, gleaned from research into the successful stewardship of common-pool resources, can guide the establishment and evolution of institutions to manage many ecosystem services.


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