October 05, 2020

Ecosystems in the Supreme Court

J.B. Ruhl

The British ecologist Sir Arthur Tansley coined the term ecosystem in 1935 to describe one of a continuum of physical systems within nature, ecosystems being at the first level. See John M. Blair et al., Ecosystems as Functional Units in Nature, 14 Nat. Resources & Env’t 150 (2000). His concept of an ecosystem encompassed all the organisms that function and interact in a given area of physical environment. The ecosystem concept did not become a research focus until the 1960s, however, and only after that did it migrate into law and policy. Id. The term ecosystem now appears over 350 times in federal statutes, over 1,000 times in state statutes, and many more times than that in agency regulations and policies. Major research policy domains, such as ecosystem management and ecosystem services, have blossomed over the past two decades into the lingua franca of environmental agencies and practitioners. Tansley clearly started something big!

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