Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - 29

CHAPtER 3

Concepts in Natural Resources Management

29

Ecology is the branch of science dealing with the complex relationships
among living things and their environment. An ecological system, or ecosystem,
is any partially self-contained environmental and living system. A lake might be
thought of as an ecosystem. A forest, a large valley, or a desert might be considered an ecosystem.
In a very real sense, we exist in an ecosystem. We depend on our environment
for life itself. For many thousands of years, that was no problem, but today, our
numbers are increasing. Our technology is becoming tremendously powerful. In
ancient times, our use of natural resources had little effect on our ecosystem, but
in the past few centuries, we have had an ever-increasing impact on that ecosystem.

It is important to note that ecology is a science. It can be defined as the study of the
interactions of organisms and their environment. Environmentalism, which is simply
a strong concern for the environment, is not the same thing at all. Environmentalism
is based on emotion, values, beliefs, and politics. An environmentalist is a political
activist with a special interest in some aspect of the environment. Environmentalists
concern themselves with right and wrong as they perceive it; with good and bad,
again as they perceive it; and with morality, as they perceive it.
As a science, ecology is based on observation and objective interpretation
of data. An ecologist is a scientist. In their role as scientists, ecologists do not
attempt to make decisions based on moral interpretations (value judgments). We
say that science is amoral, meaning outside the scope of morality. When we use
this word, we are simply communicating the idea that value judgments about
what is good and what is bad should not be a part of science. Scientists are interested in learning how things work, not in deciding what is good or bad (moral or
immoral) from a human perspective (Figure 3-3).
To illustrate the distinction, consider this situation: A person in a fishing boat
catches a large shark just off a beach used by swimmers. Should he or she release
the shark because the fish has a right to live? Should the person kill the shark out
of concern for the human swimmers? That sort of judgment is one of values. It is a
moral question, not a question for science. An ecologist (while acting as a scientist)
would simply look at the shark as a large predator and an important part of the food
web. To the ecologist, the question of killing the shark or releasing it should focus
on the shark's place in the ecosystem. The role of science in this situation would be
amoral. The scientist would be interested in the facts of the situation rather than in
making value judgments about right and wrong or about good and bad.
This does not mean a scientist cannot also be an environmentalist. When a
scientist stops doing science and starts advocating environmentalist positions on
political issues, he or she is not talking as a scientist but as an environmentalist,
although perhaps as a very well-informed environmentalist.

the Science of Ecosystems
An ecosystem is a given set of organisms, organic residues, physical and chemical
components, and conditions (i.e., light, temperature, etc.) that interact and transform energy and matter in form and location (Figure 3-4). Ecosystems consist of
biotic (living) subsystems as well as abiotic (nonliving) subsystems. An example
of a biotic subsystem is the relationships among the plants and animals that live
in a particular location. An example of an abiotic system is the water of a lake and
the chemicals that dissolve from the atmosphere and land that affect the water's
acidity level (Figure 3-4).

Source: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Photographer G. De Metrio

Perceptions in Ecology

FIguRE 3-3 Scientist

displaying a pop-off
electronic tag. this tag is
inserted into the body of a
fish. It releases at a preset
time, floats to the surface,
and transmits a signal to
an arGOS satellite. the
devices are used to radiotrack large pelagic fish
species, such as tuna.



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp

Contents
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Cover1
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Cover2
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - i
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - ii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - iii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - iv
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - v
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - Contents
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - vii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - viii
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - ix
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - x
Managing Our Natural Resources, 6e, Camp - xi
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