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Professional ecological knowledge: an unrecognized knowledge domain within natural resource management

Forrest Fleischman, Texas A&M University, Department of Ecosystem Science & Management
David D. Briske, Texas A&M University, Department of Ecosystem Science & Management


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Successful natural resource management is dependent on effective knowledge exchange and utilization. Local/traditional/indigenous knowledge derived from place-based experience and scientific knowledge generated by systematic inquiry are the most commonly recognized knowledge domains. However, we propose that many natural resource decisions are not based on local or scientific knowledge, but rather on a little recognized domain that we term professional ecological knowledge (PEK). Professional ecological knowledge is founded upon codification of broad ecological principles, but not necessarily scientific evidence, to legitimize agency programs, support operational efficiency, and encourage user compliance. However, in spite of these benefits, PEK may reduce program effectiveness by inhibiting the exchange of local and scientific knowledge and minimizing the development of evidence-based conservation. We describe what we consider to be common facets of PEK through case studies examining the sources of knowledge utilized by forestry agencies in India and by rangeland conservation programs of the USDA Natural Resource Conservation Service. Three propositions are presented regarding the origins and continued existence of PEK: (1) minimal information feedbacks regarding the efficacy of agency programs contributes to development of PEK; (2) a narrow scientific agenda and a perception that most scientific knowledge is not relevant to management decisions encourages a divide between scientists and managers; and (3) political interests often benefit from existing applications of PEK. By calling attention to the existence of PEK as a distinctive knowledge domain, we aim to encourage more explicit and critical consideration of the origins of knowledge used in environmental decision making. Explicit recognition of PEK may provide greater understanding of the dynamics of knowledge exchange and decision making in natural resource management.

Key words

government agencies; knowledge domains; knowledge integration; local knowledge; scientific knowledge; science-policy gap

Copyright © 2016 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087