Some of the most pressing resource conservation problems stem directly from the mismanagement of important biological resources. Many marine fisheries are being depleted, for example, because of the significant overcapacity of fishing vessels and the failure of resource managers to closely regulate the harvest. In theory, a renewable resource stock could be harvested at its maximum sustainable yield and maintain constant average annual productivity in perpetuity. In practice, however, fishery harvest levels are often set too high and, in many regions, enforcement is weak, with the result that fish stocks are driven to low levels. A similar problem occurs in relation to the management of timber resources. Short-term economic incentives encourage cutting as many trees as quickly as possible.
A number of steps are being taken to improve resource conservation in managed ecosystems. (1) Considerable scientific research has been undertaken to better understand the natural variability and productivity of economically important resources. (2) Many national and local governments have enacted regulations for resource management practices on public and private lands. (3) In some of the regions, programs recently have been established either to involve local communities who have a greater incentive to manage for long-term production more directly in resource management decisions or to return to them resource ownership rights. (4) Efforts are underway to manage resources on a regional or ecosystem scale using methods that have come to be known as ecosystem management or bioregional management. Since the actions are taken in one location often influence species and processes in other locations, traditional resource conservation strategies were often focused too narrowly to success.