A question has been brought to my attention. Does the ecosystem management approach provide a usable strategy for managing natural resources that is at least potentially better than past strategies? Before I am able to answer the question I have to know what ecosystem management is and what are the past management strategies, considering the application to the area that is going to be managed.
To begin ecosystem management there needs to be a definition to state what ecosystem management is. Actually there isn t a concrete definition for the term ecosystem management. It has been used and defined by various groups in several different ways and, because of a somewhat vague definition has the potential to cause confusion among managers, some concluded that ecosystem management is based on principles rather than one single definition. (Vogt 1997). The Department of the Interior and Bureau of Land Management s explanation of ecosystem management states: Ecosystem management is a process that considers the total environment. It requires the skillful use of ecological, social, and managerial principles on managing ecosystems to produce, restore or sustain ecosystem integrity and desired conditions uses products, values, and services over the long term Ecosystem management recognizes that people and their social and economic level needs are an integral part of ecological system (Vogt 1997).
In observation to the ecosystem management approach I do agree that this approach is usable. I base my reasoning on past summer work experience. I worked for the Department of the Interior at Jewel Cave National Monument as an interpretive ranger. I led tours with 100+ visitors a day explaining to them why Jewel Cave is so important; stressing factors to consider, such as protection above and below the surface. By working with the chief of Natural Resources and other administration, I learned how Jewel Cave was managed, in the past and what the plans are for the future. I am going to show through examples of Jewel Cave transformations how the ecosystem approach is usable and how the past management strategies were usable but how they focused on individual characteristics of the area. I am applying that ecosystem management can include caves.
Jewel Cave is located in western South Dakota, 13 miles from the town of Custer on the outer boundaries of the Black Hills, 24 miles from Wyoming. The area consists of 1274 acres which his dominated by Ponderosa Pine trees, along with rolling hills. Beneath the forest floor and the rolling hills lies 121 miles of cave. Before the cave was discovered the area was harvested for the Ponderosa Pine stands. Once the cave was discovered and named a National Monument harvesting ceased. Years passed and the cave expanded in length, in which another entrance was opened. This entrance would allow for more visitors to enter the cave. A 3-acre parking lot, visitor center, and housing were all built on top of the cave. The area being managed for the natural resources is now also being managed for human values and the public coming to visit the cave allowed for revenue to be generated.
As with most occurrences with developing an area, the effects of the development don t show up until years later. Disturbances within the cave started to occur. Rooms and areas located throughout the cave that was dry, show signs of water. Observation concluded that the unknown water was from the development of the structures directly above the cave. The New Wet Room along the Scenic tour is the main example to show how the past management strategies changed the cave. Because the parking lot was constructed directly above the cave, it concentrated the flow of water into the New Wet Room, formally called The Velvet room. The presence flow of water in the New Wet Room totally erased one formation, but it created another. With the tour in that particular area it was a prime example of how humans disturb and affect habitat. Research has shown that because the parking lot and visitor center, runoff water was no longer being soaked up by the 3-acres of what used to be Ponderosa Pine trees.
Another issue that arose, that was not thought of before developing was oil and other substances that come off of vehicles while parked in the lot. That oil will soon be entering the cave with surface water, which could possibly cause a chemical imbalance within the cave. These leading indicators are based on asphalt absorption. This was something else that was not considered in the management plan. With construction of the visitor center and housing, waste disposal had to be considered. Sewage Lagoons were constructed, and all wasted water went into three pools. For years the lagoons worked but because the increase I visitors to the park, the lagoons were over flowing. A way of disposing of the 99.9% clean water had to be proposed. One consideration, spraying the forest trees with the clean water. Before the water could reach the ground the trees would take it up. This was an individual management strategy that was being considered.
Due to the multitude of occurrence disturbances that are predicted to happen and have happened, Jewel Cave adapted the ecosystem approach. One part of their management plan is to protect the Ponderosa Pine stands. Prescribed burns are conducted to mimic natural fires, for the reduction of forest ground liter and to prevent the entire forest from burning down. The actual consequence of the forest burning down would increase the amount of water entering the ground, causing changes in the cave. Jewel Cave cooperates with landowners surrounding the monument; the size of the cave exceeds park boundaries. Jewel Cave stresses the use of pesticides and clear cutting on the land where the cave is located.
Activities and research being conducted by the cave manager at Jewel Cave is a never-ending process. The majority of the management is testing soil, water and minerals for different chemical substances. Testing of the air is also conducted; different mineral expels gases that are harmful and safe for humans. The manager uses data to issue different levels of safe and not safe air throughout the cave. Because water comes from the surface it brings in other substances and the substance could cause a reaction that is harmful. The manager also has to consider the human impact to the cave. When the scenic tour was open to the public, an asphalt walkway was constructed. Concerns about the petroleum, used to set the asphalt might react the mineral throughout the cave. Revisions were made and the asphalt was removed and concrete was replaced. Concrete is mineral based and only water is used to cause a chemical reaction to harden the concrete. The abundance of visitors to the cave has placed some concerning issues on the table; one goal that the park Service has is to leave the cave as we have found it. First a walkway was constructed, but because of the thousands of visitors during the summer they have had a slow but apparent impact on the cave. Lint from visitors enjoying the cave, is expelled cover walls, and attaching to formations. The lint has caused an unnatural growth on some formations. Management is aware on the impact of visitors on cave and they have addressed the situation by conducting a cave cleanup. Volunteers come into the cave with little vacuums and brushes and gather all the lint that they see. This effort for keeping sustainability to the cave has been very productive.
hydrogeology, prescribed burns and speleological management and others, but the major ecosystem approach is to remove the parking lot, visitor center and housing. All paved areas would be removed, and then stands of Ponderosa Pine would be planted. The process will not take place all it once, but it will be gradually implemented over time. They have started by removing trailers off park grounds, and the area where the trailers were, is being dug up. This will allow the to return to its natural state. They want to sustain the bio-diversity of the area.
Using jewel Cave National Monument as an example to state my argument, ecosystem management is by far an application that could and over time will work. Applications for ecosystem management is site specific, so the ecosystem management approach at Jewel Cave will differ from other site where caves are present. Jewel cave has enough data to know the ecosystem s health; the National Park Service along with the National Forest Service has conducted research on inputs and outs for years. One question that I ask Jewel Cave, will technology and science be able to solve all changes that have happened due to human interactions. Will they be able to clean up the oil and other substances seeping slowly down into the cave? That is one threshold that will have to be decided. Again stating my view I think the ecosystem approach is usable, and should be considered and combined with past management strategies.