Nebraska Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit


Date of this Version



Fisheries, Vol. 45, No. 5 (May 2020), pp 238-243

DOI: 10.1002/fsh.10439


U.S. govt work


Aldo Leopold, famous ecologist and “father” of North American wildlife management, once said, “These are two things that interest me: the relation of people to each other, and the relation of people to land” (Leopold 1947). Ever prescient, Leopold recognized that natural resource management is fundamentally about humans and their relationship with nature well before conservation became an established way of thinking, much less the bedrock of entire professions. Similarly, amid the Green Revolution to increase agricultural production, in part, through widespread use of pesticides, renowned environmentalist and journalist Rachel Carson noted that we are all “a part of nature, and [our] war against nature is inevitably a war against [ourselves]” (Carson 1962). Leopold’s and Carson’s words spoke volumes about pressing problems facing humanity and ecosystems at a time when innovative social–ecological thinking in mainstream spheres was direly needed.

Throughout their lives, Leopold and Carson illustrated, in word and deed, how people and the environment are intertwined in ways that affect the productivity and sustainability of human and natural systems. Today, these human– environmental connections are well known by some groups of people—thanks to dedicated natural resource scientists, managers, and communicators, not to mention millennia-old connections to and understandings of the land by Indigenous peoples—but are too often unrecognized or taken for granted in broader society. The consequence of such social–ecological silence is a modern natural resource policy management environment that tends to approach conservation in fragments as opposed to holistically across human/social systems (e.g., socioeconomic, political, cultural) and natural/ecological systems (e.g., biological, geological, climatological). Although such fragmentation results from the historical independence of social and natural sciences, as well as the difficulty of integrating them (Liu et al. 2007a, 2007b; Ostrom 2009), we now have the knowledge and tools to write a new social–ecological chapter in conservation history. This is a crucial task because many of the world’s most pressing environmental challenges— those that threaten ecosystems and human systems alike (e.g., climate change, biodiversity loss, air and water pollution, food and nutrition insecurity, water scarcity)—are social–ecological by origin and structure, demanding integrative solutions rooted in human–environmental inquiry. Fortunately, the interconnectedness of humans and nature that so fascinated Leopold, Carson, and countless others represents an expanding research area—coupled human and natural systems (CHANS)—with promising potential to improve ecosystem integrity and human health and wellbeing (Hulina et al. 2017; López-Hoffman et al. 2017a; Kaemingk et al. 2020).