Critical issues in regional natural resource management
Marcus B Lane, Geographical and Environmental Studies, The University of Adelaide
prepared for the 2006 Australian State of the Environment Committee, 2006
Civic regionalism is based on an assumption that it is possible to identify a ‘region’ that is a single geographic area that is the ideal size, or scale, for managing natural resources.
This assumption implies that a region can be seen as either a ‘community of common interest’, or as an ecological unit such as a catchment or a bioregion.
There are problems with both definitions. Defining a region in terms of a community ignores all the evidence about how gender, ethnicity, class, age and other forms of social identity can divide so-called communities. The other ‘ecological’ definition of a region makes the mistake of favouring one scale over others. This can cause problems because ecological changes are often patchy and occur across several scales, possibly ranging from metres to hundreds and even thousands of kilometres. This means that ‘there is no single right scale for management’ (Pritchard and Sanderson 2002, 150).
Regardless of how a region is defined, another problem is created. How can we reconcile differing social, ecological and jurisdictional regions to enable borderless management? Will state governments, for example, cooperate just because they manage parts of the same ecological region?
To use a well-worn phrase, environmental problems don’t respect jurisdictional boundaries. Even where a ‘region’ is identified and managed as a single unit, jurisdictional boundaries are fixed and often impede the development of integrated environmental solutions. In addition, civic regionalism creates new jurisdictions and boundaries, and might in fact create an entirely new boundary problem for other institutions such as local government.
Scale creates complex problems for NRM, particularly when the causes (and solutions) of some environmental problems are considered. For example, national and international commodity markets have a strong—even dominant—influence on how Australian farmers respond to policy initiatives when making land management decisions. In this context, limiting NRM to one scale makes it impossible to address the underlying causes of environmental degradation.
Instead of the kind of single-scale management that has been promoted, perhaps we need to be thinking of nested institutional capabilities—some focussing on particular scales and some working across scales. NRM, even under a model like civic regionalism, needs to be multi-level.