How to see a case in its own right? Think long term from the small scale and in real time for the large scale

I attended a presentation on an ecosystem restoration project in Montana. One of the project leaders described what was for him the key contribution of ecosystem management there: The approach gave him a way to integrate the small and large scale.

Not only could the project leader stand in his woodlot and see how it fit in with the larger scale of the ecosystem and landscape, he was able to plan at the smaller scale for the longer term. He was able to expect a future for the forested lot.

So too for the ecosystem manager standing at the ridge overlooking the valley. She looked down and was able to plan at the larger scale for the shorter term. She could now see what the next steps ahead were when it came to managing the larger ecosystem.

“Think globally, act locally” had become for this group “Think long term from the small scale and in real time for the large scale.”

–One considerable benefit of having such a mash-up is increasing the likelihood that (1) each group member will have to rely on his or her own best judgment about specific interconnections between scales and (2) members together will thereby treat each case of complex ecosystem restoration on its own merits.

–Other inter-related advantages of looking at a case in its own right include (in no order of priority):

  • You get to see and show how theory-based taxonomies and conceptual frameworks go only so far but rarely far enough when applied on the ground;
  • You get to see not just messy politics but material power at work—which is key for those of us loathe to get lost in abstractions about any reified Power;
  • You get to see that policy and management are more complicated than the usual complaint about politics, dollars and jerks;
  • The case helps you see some things afresh, as if for the first time; and
  • It will come as no surprise that actual practice, actual behavior and actual implementation in the individual case differ from the principles, policies and plans said to govern the former. This is so unexceptional that when things work as planned this must be a surprise worthy of its own research and study.

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