The application of ecosystem approaches in the Golden Horseshoe Region, Ontario’
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Environmental crises have prompted a re-evaluation of traditional approaches to environmental management that has often highlighted their inability to deal with the complexity of social-ecological systems. The ecosystem approach (EA) offers an alternative that combines ideas from systems theory, participatory decision-making and adaptive management. However, EAs are still relatively young both as a discipline and as a practice, and as such, their meaning is continuously being redefined. This paper assesses the current state of development and the direction of EAs in the Golden Horseshoe Region (Ontario) by analyzing quantitative and qualitative data from interviews with EA practitioners. Practitioners were involved in projects that applied EA in a variety of fronts from ecological restoration to eco-health to urban development. The survey used helped to identify the theoretical foundations and core themes of EA; the methods, techniques and tools used; and, the factors and barriers to its implementation and potential application to other contexts. Two findings emerged from this research: first, despite the diversity of practitioners and applications, the theoretical understandings of EA are coalescing into a unified view that emphasizes the principles of integration, connectivity and participation. Second, successful implementation of EAs will require a parallel shift in the current institutional setting towards more adaptive forms of governance. Despite this obstacle EA continues to spread to applications in the fields of eco-health and urban development.