Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts: Toward Integrated Natural Resource Management in Canada
The Expert Panel on the State of Knowledge and Practice of Integrated Approaches to Natural Resource Management in Canada
The rich diversity of Canada’s natural resources has always played an important role in the culture, health, safety, and livelihood of people in Canada. In resource-rich regions across the country, overlapping natural resource use can give rise to multiple opportunities and challenges. Changing resource demands, environmental conditions, and legal and social contexts, including commitments to reconciliation, are prompting decision-makers to re-examine natural resource management practices. This has led to growing interest in developing integrated approaches to improve the way natural resources are currently managed.
In this context, Natural Resources Canada asked the Council of Canadian Academies (CCA) to undertake an assessment on the state of knowledge and practice of integrated approaches to natural resource management in Canada.
To address the question, the CCA convened a multidisciplinary panel of 13 experts from Canada and abroad. Panel members brought expertise related to biology, ecology, economics, human geography, geoscience, law, natural resource management and development, public administration, sociology, and traditional knowledge.
What is the state of knowledge and practice of integrated approaches to natural resource management in Canada?
Greater Than the Sum of Its Parts: Toward Integrated Natural Resource Management in Canada situates the potential contribution of integrated natural resource management (INRM) within Canada’s complex natural resource management landscape. The report explores the knowledge and governance processes that can support INRM in Canada, barriers to understanding and implementing INRM, and promising INRM practices. The Panel highlighted the importance of considering multiple ways of knowing in INRM, including Indigenous and local knowledge. Although several forms of governance can apply to INRM, all models benefit from the involvement of all actors to participate in natural resource management decision-making. The report is designed to be of value to leaders working to strengthen the efficacy and legitimacy of resource management systems, and to practitioners and other actors striving to advance INRM.
The Panel found that integration is needed to address current realities, and overcome the limitations of conventional approaches which focus on managing individual activities and resources. INRM calls for higher-order decision-making that embraces land-use planning and strategic assessment at regional scales, enabling better and more efficient decision-making at project-specific stages. The report details eight defining characteristics of INRM that can serve as a guide to implementation. It does not call for a complete overhaul of current resource management practices, but notes that there is sufficient knowledge and established tools to start supporting these integrated processes now.
In Canada, natural resource management decisions have historically been made on a project-by-project or sector-by-sector basis.
Confronted with current trends, including growing environmental pressures, increasing legal complexity, and declining public trust, conventional approaches have come up significantly short, lacking a broad, “bird’s-eye” perspective on project effects and often with a limited diversity of knowledge and viewpoints.
Integrated natural resource management (INRM) holds promise because it takes into account complexity, multiple scales, and competing interests, and brings these together to make informed decisions.
INRM is a way of managing human activities and natural resources that weighs and integrates multiple land uses, rights, needs, ways of knowing, and values across jurisdictional, temporal, and spatial scales to achieve environmental, economic, social, and cultural objectives.
The value of INRM comes from applying knowledge to decision-making through carefully designed and implemented governance processes.
The Panel identified eight defining characteristics of INRM. These characteristics relate to both the creation and application of knowledge, as well as to the development and implementation of meaningful governance processes.
INRM calls for higher-order decision-making that embraces land-use planning and strategic assessment at regional scales, enabling better and more efficient decision-making at project-specific stages.
From the outset INRM is underpinned by legislation, treaties, and policies (which are themselves a function of societal rights, values, and norms).
Land-use plans inform the development of regional and strategic environmental assessments that consider cumulative effects, and then inform project-level environmental assessments. Licensing and permitting decisions flow from these assessments.
Monitoring relates to both implementation and effectiveness, and measures both process and outcome. It helps ensure goals are being met and, if not, provides information to modify processes accordingly.
Monitoring and evaluation can apply across the continuum to support ongoing learning.
INRM is not an all-or-nothing proposition. While the eight defining characteristics of INRM appear to call for a complete overhaul of current resource management practices, there are already many promising emerging practices in Canada.
Incremental progress is being made to implement resource management approaches that increasingly satisfy the eight characteristics established in this report. Rather than calling for an entirely new approach to decision-making, INRM calls for a greater focus on regional planning processes at the outset.