Multiple-Use Management

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Multiple use is a form of natural resource management with ethical dimensions that may have additional implications for other aspects of science and technology by its interdisciplinary nature. In the present case the focus nevertheless remains on natural resource management.

Multiple-use natural resource management is a way of using resources to produce more than one good or service simultaneously. In the U.S. Forest Service this commonly implies managing national forests for such diverse ends as timber production, recreational activities, and environmental protection. Such multiple use easily leads to ethical dilemmas for decision makers. For example, many people living near forests in developing countries make a livelihood out of harvesting timber and non-timber forest products such as honey, nuts, and wild animals on a small scale. Commercial timber operations also have the potential to extract these resources for profit, but only by excluding, at least to some extent, the small-scale harvesters. Decision makers must decide what is the best use of resources: Produce non-timber products to ensure livelihood of communities living near forests? Produce timber to stimulate regional or national economies? Developed nations face similar dilemmas, often compounded by public concern for nearly immeasurable forest benefits, such as recreation, aesthetic beauty, and contribution to global biodiversity.

What Is Multiple Use?

Goods and services produced through a multiple-use management strategy can be complementary, supplementary, or competitive. For example, in Figure 1 the harvest of both timber and non-timber forest products from the same forest are shown to be competitive; the use of standing forest resource to produce timber limits the opportunity to produce non-timber products requiring management decisions. If decision makers decide that timber, for example, is very important and should be harvested at a high level (T1), then by following the curve one can see that non-timber forest products will be harvested at a relatively lower level (NT1). On the other hand, if decision makers think that benefits from non-timber forest products are more important, a management plan might use the NT2 value at the expense of timber interests. A private resource owner could choose a mix of timber and non-timber products that gives the greatest profit. In the context of a public resource, however, once single-faceted, often arbitrary, management strategies are abandoned, a variety of involved economic, cultural, political, technological, spatial, and temporal factors raise socioeconomic and ethical dilemmas in multiple-use management.

Socioeconomic, Environmental, and Ethical Issues in Multiple Use

Each forest presents its own medley of site-specific considerations challenging the decision maker to question the fairness of a management plan in terms of how it directly and indirectly affects a variety of stakeholders. Several socioeconomic and environmental justice theories can be applied to exploring the different facets of these issues.

Many ethical problems arise when there is no standard scale for comparing competing issues. For example, it is fairly easy to calculate consistent monetary values for timber. While non-timber forest products are sometimes harvested for a specialized global market, more often they are harvested for household use or local trade in situations in which there exists no market value for these articles. Markets for non-timber forest products, where they do exist, tend toward instability or limited scope. Therefore, taking Figure 1 again as an example, if the management goal is to maximize the monetary gain from a forest, timber would have a distinct advantage over non-timber forest products. In many developing (and some developed) countries, however, non-timber forest products are a major source of income for marginalized or impoverished communities. According to the philosopher John Rawls's theory of social justice (1971), no amount of overall gain is acceptable if it is at the expense of the most disadvantaged. On the other hand, unequal distribution of social goods (rights and liberties, powers and opportunities, income and wealth) is justified if it will help this disadvantaged group. In the case of forest policy, this may mean that a multiple-use strategy is implemented to include both timber and non-timber forest product harvesting at the expense of monetary efficiency because it benefits an otherwise marginalized group.

Basic liberties are not limited to those who are most disadvantaged. Natural resource conflicts frequently arise when the government tries to restrict access by local communities in an area to protect a public good such as biodiversity or the headwaters of a river. This might mean that a local community would lose their livelihood from non-timber forest products or the cultural tradition of family picnics by the river. If communities have a legitimate customary right to use these resources, according to Robert Nozick's theory of social justice (1974), any transfer or exchange is acceptable only if voluntary or without violation of rights. If the communities agree to forego harvesting non-timber forest products or hold their picnics in another area, either out of a sense of altruism or in response to compensation, then it is fair to restrict access to the forest.

The theory of customary rights sometimes conflicts with Aldo Leopold's land ethic philosophy (1949), which argues that all living species and environmental elements, including soils and rivers, for instance, have a basic right to exist at least to some extent in their natural condition. Managers place disproportionate weight on human needs, often ignoring the role these natural functions play in support of the human species. If a community refuses to restrict access to the forest around a river headwater, it might harm the water supply for a much larger human, plant, and animal community downstream. In this case, it becomes difficult to distinguish which is the most disadvantaged group. Followers of an ecocentric philosophy might argue that those species with no voice in the management argument and at great potential risk are actually what Rawls would describe as the most disadvantaged.

Multiple-use natural resource management attempts to address issues of equitability in sharing the benefits supplied by forests, waters, and other resources. The issue of implementing a fair policy, however, is subjective and complex. Economically efficient and ethically acceptable multiple-use management options would be ideal, but very few options pass these criteria simultaneously. In order to ensure a more egalitarian society, it is critical to use these social and ethical principles as binding constraints to maximize efficiency through multiple use of public natural resources.



Bowes, Michael D., and John V. Krutilla. (1989). Multiple-Use Management: The Economics of Public Forestlands. Washington, DC: Resources for the Future. Analyzes Forest management on public lands from an economic perspective to explore the application of multiple-use scenarios.

Leopold, Aldo. (1949). A Sand County Almanac. New York: Oxford University Press. This classic text falls into the readable genre of nature writing and also presents seminal arguments for the intrinsic value of wilderness and land ethics.

Nozik, Robert. (1974). Anarchy, State, and Utopia. New York: Basic. Focusing on his theory of entitlement, Nozik examines appropriate limits to the function of the state in order to guarantee liberties.

Rawls, John. (1999 [1971]). A Theory of Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, Belknap Press. "Liberty" and "difference" principles are discussed in the context of Rawls's moral philosophy.

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Multiple-Use Management

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