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.