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Embracing panarchy, building resilience and integrating adaptive management through a rebirth of the National Environmental Policy Act

Benson, Melinda Harm, Garmestani, Ahjond S.
Journal of environmental management 2011 v.92 no.5 pp. 1420-1427
ecosystem management, environmental law, environmental policy, equipment
Environmental law plays a key role in shaping policy for sustainability of social–ecological systems. In particular, the types of legal instruments, institutions, and the response of law to the inherent variability in social–ecological systems are critical. Sustainability likely must occur via the institutions we have in place, combined with alterations in policy and regulation within the context of these institutions. This ecosystem management arrangement can be characterized as a panarchy, with research on sustainability specific to the scale of interest. In this manuscript we examine an opportunity for integrating these concepts through a regulatory rebirth of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). NEPA currently requires federal agencies to take a “hard look” at the environmental consequences of proposed action. The original intent of NEPA, however, was more substantive and its provisions, while currently equilibrium based, may be reconfigured to embrace new understanding of the dynamics of social–ecological systems.