STATEMENT ON POLICY PRINCIPLES FOR RENEWABLE NATURAL RESOURCES*
MISSION OF THE FOUNDATION
The policy mission of the Renewable Natural Resources Foundation (the Foundation) is to advance interdisciplinary science, understanding, and stewardship of renewable natural resources by fostering interdisciplinary activities and synergy among professional, scientific, and educational organizations, and through public education.
PURPOSE OF STATEMENT
This statement on policy principles identifies broad areas of interest and agreement relating to renewable natural resource policy shared by the Foundation and its Member Organizations. It also is intended to increase public awareness and understanding of the major issues and needs associated with the future of renewable natural resources.
The fundamental principle for stewardship of renewable natural resources is sustainability—the perpetual maintenance of diverse and productive environments upon which all life depends. Humans are an integral part of these environments and are a key factor in environmental sustainability. Human uses of renewable resources must be sustainable in the long-term. To achieve sustainability, communities of organisms must be able to interact with their environments in ways that maintain the integrity of soil, water, air, and biotic resources. As stewards, humans bear the responsibility of sustaining renewable natural resources through skilled and responsible management. This requires recognition of sustainability as the underlying concept upon which renewable resource management must be based. Thus, public education about natural resources should foster a sense of stewardship and an understanding of sustainability. In addition, there is a critical need for development of, and agreement on, measures or indicators of progress toward sustainable management of resources.
The global environment is composed of myriad, complex and heterogeneous ecosystems formed by communities of organisms interacting with their environments. These systems include humans as well as animals, plants, microbes, and physical resources. The functioning of ecosystems is not adequately understood. Research is urgently needed on ecosystem functions, management, and sustainability.
Ecosystems generally should be managed to provide optimum sustained yield of both commodity and non-commodity products and benefits, through the application of sound ecological, economic and ethical principles. State-of-the-art, interdisciplinary science must be applied in formulating strategies for ecosystem management, and management techniques should be monitored for results and adjusted as new research results become available. No single management strategy will meet all these objectives in all places at all times.
Biological diversity of a geographic area is measured by the abundance and variability of plant and animal species, as well as the communities and ecological processes that link them with each other and with the soil, air, and water. Human quality of life and survival are linked to conservation of biological diversity.
Biological diversity varies geographically from microscopic to regional scales, and at each location from daily to geologic time periods. Biological diversity involves structure, function, and composition of genes, individuals, populations, subspecies, species, communities, and ecosystems. Because of this complexity and variability, management actions of various kinds are needed to meet the many possible objectives involved in maintaining diversity.
Modification of natural ecosystems by human activities is increasing the extinction rates for wild flora and fauna. This accelerated extinction of species constitutes an irreversible degradation of the environment. Interdisciplinary science, public education, and a conservation ethic are essential for developing effective policies, plans, and actions for preventing premature, human-induced extinction of species and for conserving biological diversity.
Cultural diversity is the geographic or spatial distribution and variability of human societies and cultures. At least 5,000 cultures have been linguistically identified throughout the world.Cultural and biological diversity are intricately linked. Like biological diversity, cultural phenomena can be scaled from the smallest social group—the pair—to increasingly large networks, regional cultures, mass societies, and major linguistic families. An interdisciplinary approach is needed to address the short-term and long-term tasks of relating and conserving biological and cultural diversity.
Rapid growth of human populations and unsustainable resource use continue to place increased demand on the world’s limited renewable and non-renewable natural resources. In 2019, the United Nations Population Division projected a world population in the year 2050 of 9.7 billion, a 26% increase over the 2019 figure of 7.7 billion. Rapid population increases and migrations of populations have the potential to endanger species and ecosystems and further degrade terrestrial and aquatic communities because of increased urban and rural development; soil, air, and water pollution; toxic wastes; and over-exploitation of biotic resources. Focusing only on these environmental impacts, however essential, will be treating only the symptoms rather than the root cause—rapid human population growth.
Publication and distribution of scientific information are needed to explore the impacts of human population expansion and excessive consumption on the environment and natural resources, and the need for population/habitat balance associated with land and water use. The human dimensions of environmental problems and policies must be included in scientific research and education.
LAND USE AND MANAGEMENT
Between 1982 and 2012, the amount of developed land in 49 states (not including the District of Columbia and Alaska) grew by 58 percent; in the same period, population grew by only 36 percent. Other countries are experiencing or expect to experience similar land development rates. As development continues to expand, pressures on natural areas increase. Forests, wetlands, and rangelands become fragmented or disappear, reducing their ability to provide necessary ecosystem services and wildlife habitat.
Poor planning and development (e.g., urban sprawl) require the expansion of constructed infrastructure resulting in increased impermeable surfaces—a contributor to nonpoint source water pollution—and an unnecessary burden on the local tax base. Increased automobile use associated with urban sprawl causes increased air and water pollution and increased traffic congestion.
Alternatives to indiscriminate development exist and should be utilized to assure minimal impact on already stressed ecosystems.
Sustaining renewable natural resources and productive environments requires skilled, science-based management. Meeting the habitat requirements of humans, plants, animals, and microbes has become increasingly difficult. Demands of a growing human population for housing, food, recreation, and raw materials for marketable products limit the land and water that can be set aside to conserve biotic resources, and induce changes to the environment.
Biological diversity, productivity, and aesthetic values, essential to the well-being of human and other living resources, depend upon productive environments maintained through advanced scientific management, enlightened land and water policies, appropriate public education, and teamwork among resource professionals. Innovative, science-based management approaches are needed to bring ecological and economic health into harmony. Management must be adaptable to uncertainties because systems are dynamic and not adequately understood. The goals of renewable natural resource management should be diversity; sufficient abundance and distribution of plants and animals; sustainability; responsible consumption, including recycling and the use of non-consumptive energy sources; and quality of life.
Human actions upon the Earth have introduced significant alterations to ecosystems resulting in more frequent droughts and flooding. These stressed ecosystems and natural resources have less opportunity to adapt to both human induced changes and natural disasters. Efforts to understand and mitigate human impacts on ecosystems are necessary steps toward sustainable management of natural resources.
The future sustainability of natural resources is further threatened by climate change. Steps must be taken to reduce the long-term emissions of global greenhouse gas emissions. Devising and implementing strategies to adapt to the consequences of climate change will require collaborative inputs from a wide range of experts, including physical and natural scientists, engineers, social scientists, medical scientists, those in the humanities, business leaders, and economists. Research and development efforts that can better inform climate change decisions are necessary.
WATER MANAGEMENT AND QUALITY
Water is a basic, renewable natural resource upon which the physical and economic well-being of society depends. Quantity, quality, and availability of water are critical factors in supporting adequate habitats for humans as well as all other living organisms.
Water quality is diminished by a variety of pollution sources that reduce the usable supply, degrade or destroy wetlands, and threaten the viability of aquatic organism populations. Protecting water courses and wetlands, and improving the supplies, quality, and availability of water for competing uses requires commitment, monitoring, and effective management programs.
Conservation and demand management measures are essential aspects of integrated water-resources management. These steps include cost-effective water-saving strategies employed in municipal, industrial, and agricultural uses of water; improved treatment, storage, and delivery systems to reduce losses and increase efficiencies; measures to prevent pollution by altering production processes; and reuse of water wherever safe and practical.
Competition for available water supplies is rapidly increasing. Skilled management of vegetation and proper land use can increase water yields in some watersheds. In many regions, more intense public and private conservation efforts and reduction of water pollution are needed to assure adequate future water quantity and quality.
The gaseous envelope that surrounds the planet is one of the keys to the existence, survival, and well-being of all living organisms. In large measure, air quality determines the quality of life on earth. When polluted, air can be a serious health hazard to humans and other living organisms. In addition, concentrations of certain gas emissions may change the global environment with consequent harmful impacts on humans and ecosystems.
Growth in human populations and increased rates of resource consumption have produced a rapid increase in air pollution, especially in large urban centers. Fossil fuel energy sources for industries and vehicles and their effluent gases, as well as refrigerant gases, have been major causes of air pollution worldwide. In some world regions, acid precipitation generated by fossil fuel-burning power plants drifts over large distances, killing vegetation and acidifying lakes and streams.
Air quality is a national and global concern. Non-polluting energy sources and industrial technologies, as well as increased efficiency of energy use, must be advanced at an accelerated and practical pace. Public education and policies should be focused more strongly on the increasing threat of air pollution to life on earth.
Scientific knowledge is the foundation for sustainability of healthy ecosystems and the renewable natural resources they produce. Since ecosystems are complex and distinct, and their functioning is only partially understood, the need is urgent for science to include a holistic approach to improve ecosystem and resource management and to promote sustainability. Research to bring this about should be interdisciplinary and involve the scientific disciplines most relevant to the issue being studied.
Research results that constitute a state-of-the-art body of science at any given time should be peer-reviewed. Science-based recommendations to resource managers and policymakers should represent a consensus of qualified resource professionals. Such science must be applied in formulating strategies for ecosystem management and resource use. Management techniques should be monitored and adjusted as new science findings become available that are applicable to the subject ecosystem.
Important gaps in scientific knowledge needed to achieve the best stewardship practices must be identified and research needs prioritized accordingly. Results of priority research should be made available promptly in user-friendly data banks and archives.
Like interdisciplinary science, the continuing education of resource professionals and the public is fundamental to sustaining healthy ecosystems and the renewable natural resources they produce. Well educated professionals are necessary to design and implement management strategies for sustainable, diversified, and productive ecosystems. They can assure prompt application of newly validated science. Together with informed members of the public and policymakers, continuously educated professionals can help develop and implement policies and actions to prevent premature, induced extinction of wild species while meeting human needs.
Education of resource professionals must be a career-long activity of updating knowledge. Continuing education programs must include exposure to the most recent peer-accepted science. It is thus imperative that such science be made available to these programs in a suitable form.
Since scientific research and public education based on it are long-term processes, both tend to lag behind the formulation of public environmental policy, and the need is urgent to greatly expand efforts in both areas.
The responsibilities for public education must be shared among schools, institutions of higher learning, extension programs, information services, professional and scientific organizations, resource professionals, and the media. Timely publication and the distribution of state-of-the-art scientific findings to educators, resource managers, the public, and policymakers are essential.
ACCESS TO SCIENTIFIC DATA AND INFORMATION
With increased emphasis on interdisciplinary approaches to management of natural resources, there is an increased need for effective communication among various natural sciences disciplines, professional managers, and stakeholders. At the same time, sophisticated new computer and Internet-based information systems and archives are continuously evolving. Major libraries and resource agencies offer on-line computer information networks and databases with expanded services that are instantly accessible to research scientists, educators, professional managers, and the public.
Effective scientific research and operational management of natural resources require access to and exchange of scientific data and information in a timely manner, and at minimum cost. Other important factors are the quality of information, comparability, and adherence to national and international data standards and protocols. Access of information will allow renewable natural resources scientists to analyze a wide array of information and data for science-based decision-making and effective communication to stakeholders and the public.
* Unanimously approved by the RNRF Board of Directors on November 12, 2019.