Northern regions of Canada are globally significant, supporting naturally-functioning ecosystems with a full complement of native biota and human cultures with deep links to the lands and waters. These areas are also experiencing significant land-use pressures, and are already showing effects of climate change. Conventional planning and management paradigms reflect a history that includes extensive alteration of socio-ecological systems and related processes often include a constrained set of options that are reactive to existing conflicts and crises. Such situations reinforce the mistaken impression that conservation is a cost to resource development, rather than a fundamental component of sustainability. Planning proactively for true sustainability requires a precautionary approach that acknowledges the uncertainty in management decisions, and seeks to maintain or enhance resilience at broad spatial scales. These are critical considerations as northern regions face unprecedented challenges, but also incredible opportunities. We advance a conceptual and analytical framework for large, dynamic landscapes that exploits the strengths of conservation planning and adaptive resource management through a systems approach to environmental and socio-cultural sustainability. Related land-use planning involves identification of ecological benchmarks in combination with active management regimes and a robust monitoring program that systematically enhances learning and reduces management uncertainty. The framework promotes innovative management based on shared stewardship. This approach offers potential to maintain the full range of natural and cultural values that boreal regions currently support, while realizing desirable economic opportunities. We provide examples of application of this framework across boreal regions of Canada and Alaska.
Co-author (won't be speaking): Fiona Schmiegelow – Professor and Director of Northern Sciences Program, University of Alberta