How should we protect what we value about nature in the Anthropocene? Traditional, historically oriented conservation and restoration practices are challenged by the rapid emergence of novel ecosystems, examples of recombinant ecologies that have no analog in the historic record. First, I set out a framework for thinking about adaptation to radical, anthropogenic environmental change by distinguishing three distinct notions of adaptation, in evolutionary biology, international climate policy, and environmental ethics. Next, I locate the significance of novel ecosystems in contemporary debates between the advocates of "traditional" and "new" conservation. Third, I review historic mandates to manage US parks and protected areas for naturalness and the justification of conservation efforts based on the intrinsic value of natural ecosystems.
Pervasive anthropogenic drivers of environmental change, the subsequent emergence of novel ecosystems, and the multiple goals confronting ecosystem managers today has motivated Richard Hobbs et al. to develop a non-traditional management framework that incorporates historic, hybrid, and novel ecosystems at the landscape scale. To consider how a management framework that ranges over a heterogeneous landscape intersects with ideas about values in nature and sustainability, I outline Bryan Norton's account of adaptive ecosystem management.
First, I argue that the conception of adaptation most commonly articulated in response to climate change, i.e., increase resilience/reduce vulnerability of existing social, economic, and ecological systems, will likely prove inadequate given the magnitude of changes underway. Alternatively, adaptation as transformation appears more promising in the long run, so we should seek to accept and guide transformative processes. Specifically, I show that the increasing rate of emerging novel ecosystems reveals how justifications of ecosystem conservation and restoration, based on the intrinsic value of historic and wild ecosystems, begin to fail. Thus, we need to adapt not only our ecosystem management framework but also adapt the ethical framework used to justify management interventions. Adapting the framework for conservation management and corresponding ethical theory calls for supplementing, not necessarily replacing, traditional methods and values.
Second, I argue that adopting a management framework for the whole landscape, including mixed-type ecologies, is itself an instance of applying a philosophy of adaptive ecosystem management. I outline two ethical views that are suitable alternatives to intrinsic value theory, each capable of justifying ecosystem interventions and conservation management that incorporate novel ecosystems: environmental pragmatism and virtue theory. I close by arguing that these ethical perspectives are complimentary.