Thriving Together - Ecosystem Based Management

What’s the deal with Ecosystem Based Management? 

Humans are part of our planet's ecosystem, integral players within the vast web of life. As our presence expands, so does our imprint on the natural world. With this expanding influence comes a growing responsibility to steward our impact on the environment, necessitating thoughtful and sustainable management practices to ensure the vitality of our planet for generations to come. 

In BC there is evolving infrastructure in place to manage this impact. We track the number of fish in the ocean, the temp of the water, the migration patterns of whales, and then comes the tricky part. Integrating all of that information into a plan, to harvest sustainably, keep an ecosystem healthy, or help bring a population back from the brink, and then putting that plan into action. Around the world management systems are generally siloed and fragmented. Decisions are made species by species, sector by sector, one issue at a time. But the reality is that the ocean is the most interconnected habitat on the planet, a change for one species or sector will affect the entire ecosystem. 

There is a more holistic approach, Ecosystem Based Management (EBM). The idea isn’t new, but it is not yet widely put into practice. In broad strokes, EBM considers multiple objectives together. The entire ecosystem in an area, all of the species in it, all of the human interactions with that ecosystem, and all of the value and damage that those interactions lead to. The goal is to sustain a healthy and productive ecosystem that can provide the food and functions that enrich and sustain human life and wellbeing. 

Why is this approach becoming favoured worldwide as we learn to manage dynamic ecosystems? Well, the functions of an ecosystem don’t exist in silos, everything is connected, including all the aspects of human life. This approach necessitates a mental shift towards recognizing that humans are part of the ecosystem rather than at odds with it. When EBM is functioning well, communities will have a chance to shape the plans for the ecosystems where they live. For fish harvesters, and coastal communities that have spent generations earning a livelihood from working on the ocean, their knowledge and connections to the space where they live is part of food, home, and identity. Having a hand in what living in harmony with the ecosystem looks like is absolutely vital. 

EBM in Action: The Great Bear Rainforest


At the inception of the Great Bear Rainforest initiative, the players crafted an Ecosystem Based Management (EBM) framework for the region, identifying the underlying principles and assumptions, defining EBM and establishing interconnected goals. This EBM framework was used as the guiding star for this management collaboration. Almost two decades ago plans were put into place to manage the 6.4 million-hectare region which includes forestry and tourism industries, sea wolves, salmon grizzlies, and old growth forest, under EBM. What is almost as impressive as the nature that this project stewards is the variety of stakeholders who sat at the table together sharing perspectives and navigating taking on the intricacies of managing an area the size of Ireland. B.C. and First Nations governments, led the process and were joined by ENGOs; ForestEthics, Greenpeace, Sierra Club BC and five forestry companies. Logging was both important income to the local communities, and a hugely impactful industry in the area. Against the odds, the group came to an agreement on 550,000 hectares of land where logging would be permitted, but logging practices in these areas adhere to rules designed to preserve areas of particular importance to the local ecology, wildlife, or first nations culture. The Great Bear Rainforest increased the amount of protected old-growth forest from 50% to 70%. The majority of the forest, 85% is off limits to logging. 

Jens Wieting, forest and climate campaigner for Sierra Club BC told Canadian Geographic, “There were times when it seemed impossible to find a mechanism that would meet the high conservation standards but still allow logging operations in some areas. We hope this inspires people to protect similar rainforests around the world.” The logging that is allowed to happen supports local livelihoods and communities in the region. 

EBM in Action: The Great Bear Sea

In 2009 the focus for the region turned to the incredible marine ecosystem under the Pacific North Coast Integrated Management Area (PNCIMA) banner. In 2011 B.C. and many of the same First Nations that had navigated protecting the terrestrial ecosystem of the Great Bear Rainforest took the lead to create Marine Plan Partnership (MaPP) reflecting and refining the EBM framework onto the marine. The MaPP initiative is a partnership between BC and 17 member First Nations that developed and is implementing marine use plans for the BC North Coast. Again, there are many stakeholders at the table, including multiple industry representatives, one of which is the Commercial Fishing Caucus, of which TBSEF is a member. Additionally a Science Advisory Committee gives expert scientific advice. Stakeholder consultation was part of the initial planning process for MaPP, and now 10 year MaPP Plan review and renewal will be undertaken through 2024, providing another key consultation period with stakeholders. With the Great Bear Rainforest and Sea combined, this is the largest land and marine ecosystem in the world managed under EBM.

Successful EBM is much easier said than done. Coordination is difficult, it’s a huge undertaking. But it’s also what needs to be done to create sustainable socially equitable spaces for this and future generations.