As Aldo Leopold defined it, “Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land.” The goal of environmental management is to create and maintain this harmony. It is an interdisciplinary practice that seeks to balance economic and social needs with the needs of the environment and its flora and fauna.
Environmental management focuses on solving problems in the natural world. The first step is identifying what problem needs to be solved. For example, non-native, invasive species are taking over a wetland; local waterfowl populations are declining rapidly; or lakes are experiencing unexplained fish kills. Environmental managers investigate an identified issue and research possible solutions.
An environmental management plan requires baseline data. In an aquatic environment, such a plan includes surveys and inventories of local populations. Soil and water testing determine the health of water resources. Based on these findings, management options may be restoration of wetlands to provide habitat for wildlife species as well as flood protection for human populations. An investigation of outlying areas can also locate sources of negative impacts.
Plant diversity is a measure of environmental health. An inventory of plant species in a prairie reveals the quality of an ecosystem. For example, if the diversity shows a high percentage of non-native plants, wildlife populations may not thrive. Environmental management may include controlled burns that favor prairie plant resurgence. Plantings of desired species can improve diversity, which in turn provides food and habitat for native species.
Forests are a renewable resource. Environmental management maintains the health of a forest by removing non-native species that may outcompete desired trees. Assessment of tree health determines culling practices of diseased individuals. A program of prescribed burns can limit forest duff and eliminate the risk of catastrophic wildfire. If trees are to be harvested, environmental management will assess impacts and provide a schedule for tree recovery. The overarching goal is continued sustainability of the forest.
Environmental issues are not always confined to local areas. Some negative impacts can come from sources far away. For example, sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-burning power plants can travel hundreds of miles from their source. Their deleterious effects were documented in northeastern forests, which experienced tree loss and lake acidification. Environmental management then moves beyond a local issue into a regional one. Solutions require the participation of several agencies, requiring interdisciplinary cooperation. A solution involves consideration of many non-environmental factors, including economic and financial concerns. As with any environmental management plan, continued monitoring and re-assessment are necessary for a long-term effective solution.