Natural Resources Management

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What is Natural Resource Management (NRM)?

Natural resource management is the taking care of natural resources such as land, water, marine and biological systems, with a particular focus on how the management affects the quality of life for both present and future generations. It’s about the long-term implications of actions - thinking about the future and not just about now.

For primary producers, natural resource management means taking into account the climate, soils, water, vegetation and organisms when making decisions about the land they manage. The goal is sustainability - balancing social (people and communities), economic (money and jobs) and environmental (land, water, air and living things) factors to make sure that our children and grandchildren can equally benefit from our natural resources.

Our social, economic and environmental wellbeing depends on the sustainable management of natural resources. In fact, in many instances, the goal is to leave a better natural environment for people in the future than what we have today! It’s possible to see this happen, with modern science and research and adopting new primary production techniques.

Natural resource management - the big picture

Adapted from text by Rebecca Lines-Kelly, I&I NSW Every moment of our lives we use the resources that nature provides. We breathe the air that encircles our earth. We eat plants grown in the soil and other living species. We use vegetation for food, pasture and shelter. We live in houses made from wood that was once trees, brick that was once clay, steel that was once minerals in the earth. We drink water that falls from the heavens and use it to irrigate the land. We use energy provided by coal and oil or the sun.

We depend on nature to supply all our basic needs - air, food, water, shelter, warmth, energy - yet few of us consciously acknowledge these gifts or think about the price nature pays for such generosity.

If we are to be a truly sustainable society we need to understand the impacts our lives have on nature and the resources it provides. We need to make decisions that minimise our impact so that the natural systems we are part of can continue and in turn our own lives. Scientists and primary producers are working together to better manage our soil, water, vegetation and biodiversity so that we have food to eat, fibre to use and a natural world to live in.

One way to achieve this is to recognise that as consumers we have enormous power in deciding how nature is treated. Rather than buy something for its image or price, we can ask ourselves, ‘Was this item produced with respect for the environment, or with minimal impact on the environment?’ To be able to answer this question we need to know more about the production method, we need more information so that we can make informed consumption choices that benefit, not destroy, the resources nature provides.

Buying direct from producers is another way consumers can make informed choices about their food. Local food systems such as farmers’ markets, community-supported agriculture and farm retail outlets bring consumers in direct contact with producers. Farmers can explain how the food is grown, and consumers can provide feedback about what they do or don’t like. From producers to consumers, natural resource management is everyone’s business.

From Wikipedia


Natural resource management refers to the management of natural resources such as land, water, soil, plants and animals, with a particular focus on how management affects the quality of life for both present and future generations (stewardship).

Natural resource management deals with managing the way in which people and natural landscapes interact. It brings together land use planning, water management, biodiversity conservation, and the future sustainability of industries like agriculture, mining, tourism, fisheries and forestry. It recognises that people and their livelihoods rely on the health and productivity of our landscapes, and their actions as stewards of the land play a critical role in maintaining this health and productivity.[1]

Natural resource management specifically focuses on a scientific and technical understanding of resources and ecology and the life-supporting capacity of those resources.[2] Environmental management is also similar to natural resource management. In academic contexts, the sociology of natural resources is closely related to, but distinct from, natural resource management.


The Bureau of Land Management in the United States manages America's public lands, totaling approximately 264 million acres (1,070,000 km2) or one-eighth of the landmass of the country.

The emphasis on sustainability can be traced back to early attempts to understand the ecological nature of North American rangelands in the late 19th century, and the resource conservation movement of the same time.[3][4] This type of analysis coalesced in the 20th century with recognition that preservationist conservation strategies had not been effective in halting the decline of natural resources. A more integrated approach was implemented recognising the intertwined social, cultural, economic and political aspects of resource management.[5] A more holistic, national and even global form evolved, from the Brundtland Commission and the advocacy of sustainable development.

In 2005 the government of New South Wales, established a Standard for Quality Natural Resource Management,[6] to improve the consistency of practice, based on an adaptive management approach.

In the United States, the most active areas of natural resource management are wildlife management often associated with ecotourism and rangeland (pastures) management. In Australia, water sharing, such as the Murray Darling Basin Plan and catchment management are also significant.

Ownership regimes

Natural resource management approaches can be categorised according to the kind and right of stakeholders, natural resources:

  • State property
  • Private property
  • Common property
  • Non-property (open access)
  • Hybrid

State property regime

Ownership and control over the use of resources is in hands of the state. Individuals or groups may be able to make use of the resources, but only at the permission of the state. National forest, National parks and military reservations are some US examples..

Private property regime

Any property owned by a defined individual or corporate entity. Both the benefit and duties to the resources fall to the owner(s). Private land is the most common example.

Common property regimes

It is a private property of a group. The group may vary in size, nature and internal structure e.g. indigenous tribe, neighbours of village. Some examples of common property are community forests and water resources.

Non-property regimes (open access)

There is no definite owner of these properties. Each potential user has equal ability to use it as they wish. These areas are the most exploited. It is said that "Everybody's property is nobody’s property". An example is a lake fishery. This ownership regime is often linked to the tragedy of the commons.

Hybrid regimes

Many ownership regimes governing natural resources will contain parts of more than one of the regimes described above, so natural resource managers need to consider the impact of hybrid regimes. An example of such a hybrid is native vegetation management in NSW, Australia, where legislation recognises a public interest in the preservation of native vegetation, but where most native vegetation exists on private land.[7]

Stakeholder analysis

Stakeholder analysis originated from business management practices and has been incorporated into natural resource management in ever growing popularity. Stakeholder analysis in the context of natural resource management identifies distinctive interest groups affected in the utilisation and conservation of natural resources.[8]

There is no definitive definition of a stakeholder as illustrated in the table below. Especially in natural resource management as it is difficult to determine who has a stake and this will differ according to each potential stakeholder.[9]

Different approaches to who is a stakeholder: [9]

Source Who is a stakeholder Kind of research
Freeman.[10] ‘‘can affect or is affected by the achievement of the organization’s objectives’’ Business Management
Bowie[11] ‘‘without whose support the organization would cease to exist’’ Business Management
Clarkson [12] ‘‘...persons or groups that have, or claim, ownership, rights, or interests in a corporation and its activities, past, present, or future.’’ Business Management
Grimble and Wellard[13] ‘‘...any group of people, organized or unorganized, who share a common interest or stake in a particular issue or system...’’ Natural resource


Gass et al.[14] ‘‘...any individual, group and institution who would potentially be affected, whether positively or negatively, by a specified event, process or change.’’ Natural resource


Buanes et al[15] ‘‘...any group or individual who may directly or indirectly affect—or be affected—...planning to be at least potential stakeholders.’’ Natural resource


Brugha and Varvasovszky ‘‘...actors who have an interest in the issue under consideration, who are affected by the issue, or who—because of their position—have or could have an active or passive influence on the decision making and implementation process.’’ Health policy
ODA[16] ‘‘... persons, groups or institutions with interests in a project or programme.’’ Development

Therefore it is dependent upon the circumstances of the stakeholders involved with natural resource as to which definition and subsequent theory is utilised.

Billgrena and Holme[9] identified the aims of stakeholder analysis in natural resource management:

  • Identify and categorise the stakeholders that may have influence
  • Develop an understanding of why changes occur
  • Establish who can make changes happen
  • How to best manage natural resources

This gives transparency and clarity to policy making allowing stakeholders to recognise conflicts of interest and facilitate resolutions.[9][17] There are numerous stakeholder theories such as Mitchell et al.[18] however Grimble[17] created a framework of stages for a Stakeholder Analysis in natural resource management. Grimble[17] designed this framework to ensure that the analysis is specific to the essential aspects of natural resource management.

Stages in Stakeholder analysis:[17]

  1. Clarify objectives of the analysis
  2. Place issues in a systems context
  3. Identify decision-makers and stakeholders
  4. Investigate stakeholder interests and agendas
  5. Investigate patterns of inter-action and dependence (e.g. conflicts and compatibilities, trade-offs and synergies)


Grimble and Wellard [13] established that Stakeholder analysis in natural resource management is most relevant where issued can be characterised as;

  • Cross-cutting systems and stakeholder interests
  • Multiple uses and users of the resource.
  • Market failure
  • Subtractability and temporal trade-offs
  • Unclear or open-access property rights
  • Untraded products and services
  • Poverty and under-representation [13][17]

Case studies:

In the case of the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, a comprehensive stakeholder analysis would have been relevant and the Batwa people would have potentially been acknowledged as stakeholders preventing the loss of people’s livelihoods and loss of life.[13][17]

Nepal, Indonesia and Koreas' community forestry are successful examples of how stakeholder analysis can be incorporated into the management of natural resources. This allowed the stakeholders to identify their needs and level of involvement with the forests.


  • Natural resource management stakeholder analysis tends to include too many stakeholders which can create problems in of its self as suggested by Clarkson. ‘‘Stakeholder theory should not be used to weave a basket big enough to hold the world’s misery.’’[19]
  • Starik [20] proposed that nature needs to be represented as stakeholder. However this has been rejected by many scholars as it would be difficult to find appropriate representation and this representation could also be disputed by other stakeholders causing further issues.[9]
  • Stakeholder analysis can be used exploited and abused in order to marginalise other stakeholders.[8]
  • Identifying the relevant stakeholders for participatory processes is complex as certain stakeholder groups may have been excluded from previous decisions.[21]
  • On-going conflicts and lack of trust between stakeholders can prevent compromise and resolutions.[21]

Alternatives/ Complementary forms of analysis:

Management approaches

Natural resource management issues are inherently complex as they involve the ecological cycles, hydrological cycles, climate, animals, plants and geography etc. All these are dynamic and inter-related. A change in one of them may have far reaching and/or long term impacts which may even be irreversible. In addition to the natural systems, natural resource management also has to manage various stakeholders and their interests, policies, politics, geographical boundaries, economic implications and the list goes on. It is very difficult to satisfy all aspects at the same time. This results in conflicting situations.

After the United Nations Conference for the Environment and Development (UNCED) held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, most nations subscribed to new principles for the integrated management of land, water, and forests. Although program names vary from nation to nation, all express similar aims.

The various approaches applied to natural resource management include:

  • Top-down (command and control)
  • Community-based natural resource management
  • Adaptive management
  • Precautionary approach
  • Integrated natural resource management

Community-based natural resource management

The community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) approach combines conservation objectives with the generation of economic benefits for rural communities. The three key assumptions being that: locals are better placed to conserve natural resources, people will conserve a resource only if benefits exceed the costs of conservation, and people will conserve a resource that is linked directly to their quality of life.[5] When a local people’s quality of life is enhanced, their efforts and commitment to ensure the future well-being of the resource are also enhanced.[22] Regional and community based natural resource management is also based on the principle of subsidiarity.

The United Nations advocates CBNRM in the Convention on Biodiversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification. Unless clearly defined, decentralised NRM can result an ambiguous socio-legal environment with local communities racing to exploit natural resources while they can e.g. forest communities in central Kalimantan (Indonesia).[23]

A problem of CBNRM is the difficulty of reconciling and harmonising the objectives of socioeconomic development, biodiversity protection and sustainable resource utilisation.[24] The concept and conflicting interests of CBNRM,[25][26] show how the motives behind the participation are differentiated as either people-centred (active or participatory results that are truly empowering)[27] or planner-centred (nominal and results in passive recipients). Understanding power relations is crucial to the success of community based NRM. Locals may be reluctant to challenge government recommendations for fear of losing promised benefits.

CBNRM is based particularly on advocacy by nongovernmental organizations working with local groups and communities, on the one hand, and national and transnational organizations, on the other, to build and extend new versions of environmental and social advocacy that link social justice and environmental management agendas[28] with both direct and indirect benefits observed including a share of revenues, employment, diversification of livelihoods and increased pride and identity. CBNRM has raised new challenges, as concepts of community, territory, conservation, and indigenous are worked into politically varied plans and programs in disparate sites. Warner and Jones[29] address strategies for effectively managing conflict in CBNRM.

The capacity of indigenous communities to conserve natural resources has been acknowledged by the Australian Government with the Caring for Country[30] Program. Caring for our Country is an Australian Government initiative jointly administered by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry and the Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts. These Departments share responsibility for delivery of the Australian Government’s environment and sustainable agriculture programs, which have traditionally been broadly referred to under the banner of ‘natural resource management’.

These programs have been delivered regionally, through 56 State government bodies, successfully allowing regional communities to decide the natural resource priorities for their regions.[31]

Governance is seen as a key consideration for delivering community-based or regional natural resource management. In the State of NSW, the 13 catchment management authorities (CMAs) are overseen by the Natural Resources Commission (NRC), responsible for undertaking audits of the effectiveness of regional natural resource management programs.[32]

Adaptive management

The primary methodological approach adopted by catchment management authorities (CMAs) for regional natural resource management in Australia is adaptive management.[6]

This approach includes recognition that adaption occurs through a process of ‘plan-do-review-act’. It also recognises seven key components that should be considered for quality natural resource management practice:

  • Determination of scale
  • Collection and use of knowledge
  • Information management
  • Monitoring and evaluation
  • Risk management
  • Community engagement
  • Opportunities for collaboration.[6]

Integrated natural resource management

Integrated natural resource management (INRM) is a process of managing natural resources in a systematic way, which includes multiple aspects of natural resource use (biophysical, socio-political, and economic) meet production goals of producers and other direct users (e.g., food security, profitability, risk aversion) as well as goals of the wider community (e.g., poverty alleviation, welfare of future generations, environmental conservation). It focuses on sustainability and at the same time tries to incorporate all possible stakeholders from the planning level itself, reducing possible future conflicts. The conceptual basis of INRM has evolved in recent years through the convergence of research in diverse areas such as sustainable land use, participatory planning, integrated watershed management, and adaptive management.[33][34][34] INRM is being used extensively and been successful in regional and community based natural management.[35]

Frameworks and modelling

There are various frameworks and computer models developed to assist natural resource management.

Geographic Information Systems (GIS)

GIS is a powerful analytical tool as it is capable of overlaying datasets to identify links. A bush regeneration scheme can be informed by the overlay of rainfall, cleared land and erosion.[36] In Australia, Metadata Directories such as NDAR provide data on Australian natural resources such as vegetation, fisheries, soils and water.[37] These are limited by the potential for subjective input and data manipulation.

Natural Resources Management Audit Frameworks

The NSW Government in Australia has published an audit framework[38] for natural resource management, to assist the establishment of a performance audit role in the governance of regional natural resource management. This audit framework builds from other established audit methodologies, including performance audit, environmental audit and internal audit. Audits undertaken using this framework have provided confidence to stakeholders, identified areas for improvement and described policy expectations for the general public.[39][40]

The Australian Government has established a framework for auditing greenhouse emissions and energy reporting, which closely follows Australian Standards for Assurance Engagements.

The Australian Government is also currently preparing an audit framework for auditing water management, focussing on the implementation of the Murray Darling Basin Plan.

Other elements

Biodiversity Conservation

The issue of biodiversity conservation is regarded as an important element in natural resource management. What is biodiversity? Biodiversity is a comprehensive concept, which is a description of the extent of natural diversity. Gaston and Spicer[41] (p. 3) point out that biodiversity is "the variety of life" and relate to different kinds of "biodiversity organization". According to Gray[42] (p. 154), the first widespread use of the definition of biodiversity, was put forward by the United Nations in 1992, involving different aspects of biological diversity.

Precautionary Biodiversity Management

The "threats" wreaking havoc on biodiversity include; habitat fragmentation, putting a strain on the already stretched biological resources; forest deterioration and deforestation; the invasion of "alien species" and "climate change"[43]( p. 2). Since these threats have received increasing attention from environmentalists and the public, the precautionary management of biodiversity becomes an important part of natural resources management. According to Cooney, there are material measures to carry out precautionary management of biodiversity in natural resource management.

Concrete "policy tools"

Cooney claims that the policy making is dependent on "evidences", relating to "high standard of proof", the forbidding of special "activities" and "information and monitoring requirements". Before making the policy of precaution, categorical evidence is needed. When the potential menace of "activities" is regarded as a critical and "irreversible" endangerment, these "activities" should be forbidden. For example, since explosives and toxicants will have serious consequences to endanger human and natural environment, the South Africa Marine Living Resources Act promulgated a series of policies on completely forbidding to "catch fish" by using explosives and toxicants.

Administration and guidelines

According to Cooney, there are 4 methods to manage the precaution of biodiversity in natural resources management;

1. "Ecosystem based Management" including "more risk-averse and precautionary management", where "given prevailing uncertainty regarding ecosystem structure, function, and inter-specific interactions, precaution demands an ecosystem rather than single-species approach to management".

2. "Adaptive management" is "a management approach that expressly tackles the uncertainty and dynamism of complex systems".

3. "Environmental impact assessment" and exposure ratings decrease the "uncertainties" of precaution, even though it has deficiencies, and

4. "Protectionist approaches", which "most frequently links to" biodiversity conservation in natural resources management.

Land management

In order to have a sustainable environment, understanding and using appropriate management strategies is important. In terms of understanding, Young[44] emphasises some important points of land management:

  • Comprehending the processes of nature including ecosystem, water, soils
  • Using appropriate and adapting management systems in local situations
  • Cooperation between scientists who have knowledge and resources and local people who have knowledge and skills

Dale et al. (2000)[45] study has shown that there are five fundamental and helpful ecological principles for the land manager and people who need them. The ecological principles relate to time, place, species, disturbance and the landscape and they interact in many ways.It is suggested that land managers could follow these guidelines:

  • Examine impacts of local decisions in a regional context, and the effects on natural resources.
  • Plan for long-term change and unexpected events.
  • Preserve rare landscape elements and associated species.
  • Avoid land uses that deplete natural resources.
  • Retain large contiguous or connected areas that contain critical habitats.
  • Minimize the introduction and spread of non-native species.
  • Avoid or compensate for the effects of development on ecological processes.
  • Implement land-use and land-management practices that are compatible with the natural potential of the area.

See also



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