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Ecosystem Flexibility
Ecosystems have biophysical, economic, and social limits. The environment is constantly in a state of flux, causing ecosystems to change. Given this, human populations recognize that the ability of an ecosystem to provide goods and services has limitations. Unfortunately, people also often make demands on ecosystems that exceed the system's biological or physical capabilities. Science provides information about ecosystem limits; society uses this information to make choices. Land managers use this information as they develop ways to allocate finite resources. People can choose to modify their behavior and organize their institutions to be consistent with the capabilities of ecosystems, or they can pursue actions inconsistent with the capabilities of ecosystems. People can also improve ecosystem productivity on some sites through investments in management practices. Societal choices regarding the use and allocation of resources have implications for inter-generational equity and tradeoffs.

There are limits to our ability to predict how ecosystems may change. Even the best modeling systems that try to predict what will happen to an ecosystem are only guesses, subject to a variety of assumptions and uncertainties. This is true for both human and nonhuman components of ecosystems. The events that influence ecosystem patterns and processes are usually unpredictable and predictability varies over temporal and spatial organizational levels. Pacific Northwest Research Station (1996, November). Status of the interior Columbia basin: Summary of scientific findings (General Technical Report PNW-GTR-385). Portland, OR: USDA Forest Service, pp. 20-21.

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