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Document Type

Article

Abstract

Humanity has disrupted many of the fundamental processes that shape nature worldwide. Virtually no places remain unchanged. Many ecosystems have moved far from their historic conditions and no longer support native species or traditional human uses. In the Anthropocene, a new geologic era dominated by the human impact on Earth, these problems will continue to get worse. In response, humans are intervening in ecosystems at a massive scale. This Article argues that, even as humanity engages in an unprecedented level of ecosystem management, existing environmental governance structures are ill suited to manage this new nature. Ecologists who focus on restoring ecosystems have begun to abandon efforts to recreate idealized historical ecosystems, recognizing that such efforts will fail. Instead, they embrace new approaches that acknowledge continuing human impacts and seek to shape impacted habitats in a way that benefits both human and other life. This Article examines the new ecological approaches, using their migration of purpose and approach to illuminate ecosystem management in the Anthropocene and the new obligations it places on environmental law. To sharpen this focus, the Article considers three case studies of managed ecosystems, detailing the extent to which humans are controlling nature. The case studies suggest that the existing literature seriously underestimates the magnitude of the questions society will soon face. The Article concludes that although we face the daunting prospect of reshaping the very fabric of nature, we lack the governance structures to decide what shape it should take. Society will need environmental law governance that can answer fundamental questions about humanity’s role in managing nature at all scales. This Article proposes several starting principles to encourage legal scholars to address this need.

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