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Urban Ecosystem Management Projects

Ecosystem management projects are not limited to rural areas. Recently, urban-based ecosystem management projects have established an increasingly strong presence in the field. However, the "urban ecosystem" remains undefined—or defined in different ways by different people. The definition depends on the perspective. For the ecologist, the urban ecosystem is an ecological conceptualization of the urban area: a conglomeration of interconnected systems and processes at work in the area, such as energy cycling, consumption of resources, and nutrient cycling. Local residents concerned with the preservation or restoration of a fragmented natural space might adopt the "urban wildlands" definition of urban ecosystem. For these stakeholders, this small piece of nature is worthy of being conserved as a fragment of a larger ecosystem that once dominated the area. Habitat conservation plans, based on the preservation and restoration of habitat of species protected under the Endangered Species Act, will sometimes fall in urban areas. These plans focus on more than just preservation of a species; their focus is the preservation of the ecosystem that species needs to survive. Based on a focused literature search and the opinions of practitioners and professionals in the field, the project team will first establish the interpretation of "urban ecosystem" that will be considered as the focus of the urban ecosystem management projects examined.

Although a relatively small subset of the universe of EM projects, urban-based projects can provide an interesting analysis of the applicability of the ecosystem management concept in widely differing situations. Most EM projects studied to date are concentrated in rural areas, beyond the boundaries of major population centers; many of these cover large expanses of land. Urban projects vary from their rural counterparts in a variety of ways: the area of focus is usually much smaller; residential, commercial, or industrial properties are often directly adjacent to the project area; and stakeholders in the process may have widely varying goals and perceptions of the project. The project team plans to analyze between eight and fifteen urban-based ecosystem management projects to determine whether or not these differences result in a fundamental difference in approaches to ecosystem management from rural projects. Specifically, the team will examine facilitating factors and obstacles to success, access to resources, management strategies by project managers, and stakeholder involvement.

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Last Updated May 26, 1999
For more information about ongoing research on Ecosystem Management projects located in urban areas, please contact Liz Rettenmaier, Ecosystem Management Team, at: