John Hartig standing on Detroit riverfrontManaging the Great Lakes calls for a comprehensive approach that targets the health and resilience of ecosystems, writes researcher John Hartig.

Study recommends ecosystem approach to managing Great Lakes

In contrast to traditional natural resource management that fosters autocratic decision-making, an ecosystem approach champions collaboration and empowering stakeholders, says a UWindsor researcher.

John Hartig, a visiting scholar at the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research, writes in an online column that once isolated pollution sources came under control, the focus has shifted to a more comprehensive ecosystem approach that accounts for all sources of pollution and targets the health and resilience of ecosystems overall.

He cites a recent study by the Healthy Headwaters Lab, “An Ecosystem Approach: Strengthening the Interface of Science, Policy, Practice, and Management.” The authors: Dr. Hartig, research associate Fani Tsaroucha, post-doctoral fellow Ali Mokdad, professor emeritus Doug Haffner, and director Catherine Febria, reviewed 12 ecosystem frameworks and recommended several actions, including:

  • establishing a community of practice that includes resource managers, researchers, educators, and practitioners;
  • breaking down the “silo mentality” to improve communication and foster co-production of knowledge and co-innovation of solutions;
  • building trustful relationships and capacity-strengthening efforts that enable the incorporation of Traditional Ecological Knowledge into every step of ecosystem-based management; and
  • including watershed education in the curriculum of K-12 students and educator training for all Great Lakes states and provinces.

“There are many boundaries and barriers to ecosystem-based management, including institutional, geographic, political, disciplinary, cultural, socio-economic, and more,” Hartig concludes. “An ecosystem approach requires spanning such boundaries and overcoming barriers in support of science-based decision-making.”

The column is part of Great Lakes Moment, a monthly series he publishes in conjunction with the magazine-style television program Great Lakes Now, housed at Detroit Public TV.

Read the entire piece, “Great Lakes Moment: An ecosystem approach,” at