Natural Resource Management

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Natural Resource Management


Natural resource management refers to strategies intended to sustain both renewable and non-renewable resources for present and future use. By considering how best to use the particular resource, its productivity is prolonged, and its relationship with the environment is protected.

One example of natural resource management could include the efforts of a number of organizations to preserve water availability and quality around the world. Management of water is becoming especially important as regions of the globe become warmer and drier under the influence of global warming. Natural resources that are especially vulnerable to exploitation include forests, fisheries, and the agricultural capability of land

Historical Background and Scientific Foundations

In sectors such as agriculture, forestry, and fishing, resource management focuses on preventing the overexploitation of the resource. For example, as farms have become larger and the practice of farming has shifted from manual labor to mechanization, and as the use of pesticides has increased, agricultural practices have become more damaging to the environment. Clearing the land can increase the erosion of the soil, and runoff of pesticides can contaminate surface and groundwater.

A mature, natural forest is a complex, biodiverse ecosystem. Many different types of tree species and other vegetation are present, which support many insect, bird, animal, and fish species. In contrast, forests in which lumber has been harvested for a long time tend to be less diverse, as only one or only a few species of tree remain. Such a monoculture type of forest, which is often the result of management of the resource by timber companies, can still thrive and support life, as the rate of tree cutting is controlled and locations for harvest are rotated. These practices help to make the forest a sustainable source of lumber for centuries.

Many forested regions in North America and Europe have been managed by clear-cutting. Although clear-cutting is a less expensive means of lumbering, critics of the practice decry this form of resource management as being destructive to an ecosystem because erosion of the destabilized soil can occur and the former biodiversity is obliterated. Elsewhere, the Brazilian rain forest, which comprises about 30% of all global rain forest, is being logged at a rate of over 5 million acres each year. If allowed to continue, the rain forests of Brazil, which have an important influence on moderating the global climate, could be eliminated by the year 2050.

Tides are a natural resource that can be managed to produce hydroelectric power. Depending on the geography of the coast, tides can cycle tremendous amounts of water each day. The Bay of Fundy, located between the Canadian maritime provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick, which progressively narrows and become shallower, has differences between low and high tides that exceed 50 ft (15 m). Harnessing this energy on a large scale, which is currently feasible, could be a source of renewable energy that could power hundreds of thousands of homes, while emitting no greenhouse gases in the process. The largest tidal power system in the world today is located at St. Malo in France. The dam-based system generates almost 240 megawatts of electricity, enough to power about 100,000 homes for a year. Ironically, the production of hydroelectric power by the damming of watercourses can sometimes be destructive to inland ecosystems, and displaces wildlife and people.

Impacts and Issues

Natural resource management requires forethought and planning, and some efforts are more successful than others. An example of a resource strategy gone awry has occurred in Brazil, where selective logging of the rain forest was encouraged by construction of public roads into the rain forest. The management strategy, which was intended to limit the environmental effects of clear-cutting, has had the opposite effect. A survey of the region carried out in 2006 revealed that selective logging has led to more extensive clear-cutting, because the roads have provided access to previously pristine regions. Selective logging is producing a loss of rain forest that is twice as fast as was previously estimated.

The importance of natural resource management is exemplified by the loss of the Amazon rain forest. Even though rain forests occupy only about 2% of Earth’s surface, they contain 60 to 70% of all life on the globe. The loss of this biodiversity could remove thousands of insect species and types of microorganisms that have not yet been discovered, and could deprive humans of as yet


CLEAR-CUTTING: A forestry practice involving the harvesting of all trees of economic value at one time.

EROSION: The wearing away of the soil or rock over time.

GREENHOUSE GAS: A gas whose accumulation in the atmosphere increases heat retention.

NON-RENEWABLE RESOURCE: A natural resource of finite supply that cannot be regenerated.

RENEWABLE RESOURCE: Any resource that is renewed or replaced fairly rapidly (on human historical time-scales) by natural or managed processes.

RUNOFF: Water that falls as precipitation and then runs over the surface of the land rather than sinking into the ground.

SUSTAINABILITY: Practices that preserve the balance between human needs and the environment, as well as between current and future human requirements.

WATERSHED: The expanse of terrain from which water flows into a wetland, water body, or stream.

undiscovered beneficial compounds such as active ingredients for medicines.

Advocates for a more sustainable approach to logging argue for an ecosystem-based management of the forests. In this approach, logging is viewed as being an important contributor to the overall stability of the ecosystem. Some areas may be logged intensively, but with attention paid to minimizing environmental degradation, while other regions are logged more selectively.

The maritime provinces of Canada once had a robust Atlantic cod fishery with a seemingly infinite number of cod living on the Grand Banks off the east coast of Newfoundland. However, a number of factors, including centuries of overfishing, decimated the cod stocks to the point of near extinction. The fishery was closed in the 1980s, and the resultant economic loss and social upheaval have been considerable. In 1994, two years after banning cod fishing in the North Atlantic, scientists again observed schools of spawning cod off the coast of Newfoundland. With a continued ban on fishing, the species is recovering slowly, and through future study and regulation, scientists and authorities aim to manage the still-renewable resource of codfish in a manner that is sustainable for future generations.

See Also Biofuels; Deforestation; Fish Farming; Mining and Quarrying Impacts; Overfishing; Overgrazing; Sustainable Development



Chiras, Daniel D., John P. Reganold, and Oliver S. Owen. Natural Resource Conservation: Management for a Sustainable Future. New York: Prentice-Hall, 2004.

Diamond, Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2004.

Freyfogle, Eric T. Why Conservation Is Failing and How It Can Regain Ground. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.

Web Sites

U.S. Geological Survey. “Recent Highlights: Natural Resources.” January 29, 2003. (accessed April 20, 2008).