Two Approaches for Managing Resources


Several scientists are working on natural resource management. Here, we mention two groups that are linked to two research associations, the International Society of Ecological Economics (ISEE) and the International Association for the Study of Common Property (IASCP). The former association conducts research with a view to integrating ecological systems within economic frameworks. The latter is involved in the management of common property, particularly renewable natural resources.

Economic approach

The economics of natural resources and the environment provides a set of theories and conceptual tools to monitor, analyse, evaluate, and regulate (Dales, 1968; Arrow and Fisher, 1974; Bromley, 1991). In particular, economics provides a model for the sustainable use of renewable natural resources in the form of management tools, such as taxes, quotas, grants, subsidies, standards, licences, permits, property rights, and market rights.

In addition, environmental economics relies on a representation of the circular interaction between humans and nature. The environment provides services to society which can be quantified. In return, Man transforms the environment-this action constitutes an externality-and by so doing, restricts the decisions that can be made by other agents. Appropriate policies and management tools can be used to ensure that natural services are used efficiently and to compensate for the externalities. Economic methods of monetary evaluation can be applied to both services and externalities.

Thus, different possible uses of an ecosystem or a landscape can be compared. Economic methods of evaluation-based on the capacity to clarify representations-can be applied to several types of problems. They are presented as negotiation methods for stakeholders.

One of the weaknesses of the economic approach is its failure to account for the temporal dimension when it comes to finding a balance between resources and society.

Ecological economics has improved on this by adding the concept of the co-adaptation between the natural and social worlds. In addition, the dynamics differ from a series of balanced situations. Systemic models that represent the dynamics using stocks-flux relationships are often used (Clark, 1990).

Common pool resources

An international association for the study of common property (IASCP) was set up in the late 1980s. However, its origins date back to the publication in 1968 of G. Hardin's theory of the failure of the commons. In fact, the author expressed the view that a common resource exploited by rational economic agents is bound to disappear because of over-exploitation. Different solutions have subsequently been put forward to solve the problem: privatization or the establishment of a central authority responsible for managing the access to resources, i.e. to control it by using economic or administrative management tools.

The most outspoken critics of Hardin's article have demonstrated that the failure is not due to the common nature of the resources but to the fact that there is free access. There are numerous examples to show that a community can manage a common resource sustainably.

Several authors, such as Ostrom (1990; 1999), Berkes et al (1989), and Stevenson (1991) disagree with Hardin's view that successful collective action is impossible. They present the principles of an institutional approach based on formal or informal regulatory mechanisms that govern the viability of ecosystems. This governance makes reference to stakeholder representations and is based on the principle of negotiation.

Local approaches tend to be ineffective because of interference from external actors or constraints beyond the locality (at different scales). Research is now focusing on the concept of co-management (McCay and Jones, 1997). If co-management can be applied when different stakeholders use a given resource for the same purpose (for example, fishermen or members of an association of catchment areas), then the issue now is to extend it to resources with multiple uses. This requires other forms of arbitration and collective decisions.


Arrow K.J. et Fisher A. 1974. Environmental Preservation, Uncertainty, and Irresversibility. Quaterly Journal of Economics, 88: 312-319.

Berkes F., Feeny D., McCay B.J. et Acheson J.M. 1989. The benefits of the commons. Nature, 340: 91-93

Bromley D.W. 1991. Environment and Economy, Property Rights and Public Policy. Blackwell, Cambridge.

Clark C.W. 1990. Mathematical Bioeconomics; The Optimal Management of Renewable Resources. John Wiley & Sons Inc., New York..

Dales J.H. 1968. Pollution, Property and Prices, An Essay in Policy Making and Economics. University of Toronto Press, Toronto.

Hardin G. 1968. The tragedy of the commons. Science 162: 1243-1248.

McCay B.J. et Jones B. 1997. Proceedings of the Workshop on Future Directions for Common Property Theory and Research. Ecopolicy Center for Agricultural, Environmental and Resource Issues, New Jersey.

Ostrom E. 1990. Governing the Commons. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Ostrom, E. 1999. Coping with tragedies of the commons. American Review of Political Science, 2: 493-535.

Stevenson G.G. 1991. Common Property Economics. A General Theory and Land Use Applications. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge

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