During the past decade or so, many researchers, planners and managers the world over have propounded some version of “ecosystem approach” for problems and opportunities with the natural environment and renewable resources. Most of these approaches share the following features: a primary focus on ecological phenomena as opposed to engineering, economic, or jurisdictional phenomena; a perception of some self-regulatory capacity on the part of an ecosystem; a recognition of the marked responsiveness of many ecological systems to natural and human activities; and a readiness to strike a pragmatic compromise between detailed reductionistic understanding and more comprehensive, holistic meaning. Great Lakes workers are now trying to implement operational and institutional forms of ecosystem approach. Ten of these initiatives are assessed here, taken from all government levels, directed toward open lake, coastal, and hinterland components of the basin. This comparison illustrates the range of proposals now under consideration in the basin and identifies their common elements. We offer these features as defining criteria of an ecosystem approach with the suggestion that thorough-going synthesis or standardization be avoided. Flexible eclectic pragmatism is, we suggest, the most productive attitude toward Great Lakes environmental problems. © 1982, International Association for Great Lakes Research. All rights reserved.
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