MtnSEON’s Social Ecological Systems (SES) Approach

by Rebecca Wallace

The Mountain Science and Ecological Observatory Network (MtnSEON) has formed a working group comprised primarily of scientists/academicians and federal resource managers to examine the feasibility of creating a Mountain Research Education Institute—MREI.

The Aspen International Mountain Foundation (AIMF) was delighted when it was asked to bring the nonprofit/local government perspectives to the table. We are pleased to be part of an effort that is looking at ways to help improve the management of mountain landscapes through a partnership of managers and scientists.

So what’s different about MREI?

The concept behind MREI is that research needs to take place at different scales (landscape down to the community level) using an approach that integrates social and ecological data, i.e., a social ecological systems approach—SES. To date, much of the research conducted on mountain environments has focused on bio-physical data, and the social aspects of issues have not been adequately integrated into the research construct. In other words, the ecologists and social scientists haven’t been working very collaboratively to address mountain issues. Is that a problem? Apparently so.

The National Science Foundation and other research funders are recognizing this shortcoming and are now looking for an SES research approach as they review their grant applications. In addition, and of great interest to AIMF, MtnSEON recognizes that there has not been an adequate synthesis/translation of research data and findings to make them useful to actual decision makers, particularly at the local level. MREI hopes to change that.

I attended the kick-off meeting for the project in late May 2014 at the Chico Hot Springs Resort near Yellowstone National Park. Aside from enjoying the fabulous scenery, a key outcome of that meeting was the decision to move forward to flesh out the educational component for MREI.

The second meeting or the SESTEP organizing team was in Spring 2015, where the working group worked to produce a white paper that detailed SESTEP and its targeted audiences, a course curriculum, and a peer-reviewed manuscript to justify the SESTEP training process and implementation.