What does management in the context of natural resources mean?

As the natural environment continues to change due to pressure from development, production and internationalisation, it is becoming increasingly important to ensure we manage our natural resources more appropriately in order to sustain them and ourselves into the future. This theme considers how to manage some particularly prominent and devastating issues associated with:


The human economy depends on the planet's natural capital, which provides all ecological services and natural resources. Drawing on natural capital beyond its regenerative capacity results in depletion of the capital stock. Through comprehensive resource accounting that compares human demand to the biological capacity of the globe, it should be possible to detect this depletion to help prepare a path toward sustainability. Sustainability requires living within the regenerative capacity of the biosphere. Our accounts indicate that human demand may well have exceeded the biosphere's regenerative capacity since the 1980s. According to this preliminary and exploratory assessment, humanity's load corresponded to 70% of the capacity of the global biosphere in 1961, and grew to 120% in 1999.

Thus, the ecological impact of humanity is measured as the area of biologically productive land and water required to produce the resources consumed and to assimilate the wastes generated by humanity, under the predominant management and production practices in any given year.
Our accounts include six human activities that require biologically productive space. They are (i) growing crops for food, animal feed, fibre, oil, and rubber; (ii) grazing animals for meat, hides, wool, and milk; (iii) harvesting timber for wood, fibre, and fuel; (iv) marine and freshwater fishing; (v) accommodating infrastructure for housing, transportation, industrial production, and hydro-electric power; and (vi) burning fossil fuel. In each category and for each year of the 40-year time series, we calculate both human demand and existing capacity. Our calculations rely on publicly available government data sources, and use conservative estimates where uncertainties exist.


There are major weaknesses in the policies, methods and mechanisms adopted to support and develop the multiple ecological, economic, social and cultural roles of trees, forests and forest lands. Many developed countries are confronted with the effects of air pollution and fire damage on their forests. More effective measures and approaches are often required at the national level to improve and harmonize policy formulation, planning and programming; legislative measures and instruments; development patterns; participation of the general public, especially women and indigenous people; involvement of youth; roles of the private sector, local organizations, non-governmental organizations and cooperatives; development of technical and multidisciplinary skills and quality of human resources; forestry extension and public education; research capability and support; administrative structures and mechanisms, including intersectoral coordination, decentralization and responsibility and incentive systems; and dissemination of information and public relations. This is especially important to ensure a rational and holistic approach to the sustainable and environmentally sound development of forests. The need for securing the multiple roles of forests and forest lands through adequate and appropriate institutional strengthening has been repeatedly emphasized in many of the reports, decisions and recommendations of FAO, ITTO, UNEP, the World Bank, IUCN and other organizations.


Desertification is land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities. Desertification affects about one sixth of the world's population, 70 per cent of all drylands, amounting to 3.6 billion hectares, and one quarter of the total land area of the world. The most obvious impact of desertification, in addition to widespread poverty, is the degradation of 3.3 billion hectares of the total area of rangeland, constituting 73 per cent of the rangeland with a low potential for human and animal carrying capacity; decline in soil fertility and soil structure on about 47 per cent of the dryland areas constituting marginal rainfed cropland; and the degradation of irrigated cropland, amounting to 30 per cent of the dryland areas with a high population density and agricultural potential.

The priority in combating desertification should be the implementation of preventive measures for lands that are not yet degraded, or which are only slightly degraded. However, the severely degraded areas should not be neglected. In combating desertification and drought, the participation of local communities, rural organizations, national Governments, non-governmental organizations and international and regional organizations is essential.


Mountains are an important source of water, energy and biological diversity. Furthermore, they are a source of such key resources as minerals, forest products and agricultural products and of recreation. As a major ecosystem representing the complex and interrelated ecology of our planet, mountain environments are essential to the survival of the global ecosystem. Mountain ecosystems are, however, rapidly changing. They are susceptible to accelerated soil erosion, landslides and rapid loss of habitat and genetic diversity. On the human side, there is widespread poverty among mountain inhabitants and loss of indigenous knowledge. As a result, most global mountain areas are experiencing environmental degradation. Hence, the proper management of mountain resources and socio-economic development of the people deserves immediate action.

Key questions for this area

If you are studying or teaching about the management of natural resources, or are looking to add content to your unit, the following are some key questions you should be able to answer and/or consider:

  • How are natural resources currently managed within Australia? Are current management practices effective and appropriate?
  • What areas are being rapidly subjected to deforestation and degradation? What impact will this have on animal, plant and human communities?
  • Is it possible to manage natural resources effectively, and still maintain enough land to feed and house the growing world population?

Content owner: Office of the Vice Chancellor Last updated: 31 Oct 2019 3:55pm

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