This piece comes from the Karuk Tribe, a nation located in what is today northern California and Southern Oregon, along the Klamath River. This piece shares Karuk cultural teachings around socio-ecology. We publish this with gratitide to the Karuk Tribal Department of Natural Resources Pikyav Field Institute, which is currently raising funds to support their land restoration and cultural revitalization initiatives.

Socio-Ecological first vs. Socio-Economic first

by Karuk Tribe Department of Natural Resources / Pikyav Field Institute

What are these perspectives and how are they different? Both approaches intend to enhance the health and well-being of ourselves, our communities, our ecosystems, and our economies, but they go about it in different ways – based on different priorities.

Socio-Ecological First

The core belief with socio-ecology is that we (humans) are intimately connected to and a part of our ecosystem (i.e. socio-ecosystem).

There is an emphasis on balancing and enhancing human-ecosystems, interactions and ecosystem dynamics and an understanding that resilient abundant economies rest on a
resilient socio-ecological foundation.

Resilient Abundance here means having healthy human communities, diverse and abundant economic opportunities, diverse and frequent ways people interact with the ecosystem.

In addition, we should have diverse and plentiful reproducing animal and plant populations; plentiful high quality air and water and thriving mycorrhizal networks; etc.

Socio-Ecological Management

What does it look like when priority is given to socio-ecology? There is Socio-ecological-economic integration. Many people work in natural resource-related fields because of the complexity of ecosystem management. This includes, for example ecosystem stewardship such as thinning, burning and herd management. There is frequent, regular monitoring of and interaction with the ecosystem and species. There is alignment of ecological and economic benefits.

The indigenous stewardship ethic is that resources (e.g. fruits, nuts, meat, fish, fuel, fibers) are not harvested for trade unless

1) Their habitat has been managed such that they are thriving & reproducing.

2) The local animal and human populations have had their share

What Does This Lead To?

With Socio-Ecological First this leads to interconnection between social, ecological, and economic factors. This results in strong feedback loops between humans and the ecosystems upon which they depend and are part of.

This can result in quicker identification of ecological problems including species in decline, pest/disease outbreaks and negative
impacts of management actions. Prioritising this interconnection can result in more complete ecosystem understanding and thus, more appropriate systemic solutions. There is an increased and increasing interconnection.

Socio-Economy First

The core belief with socio-ecomony is that humans are separate
from the natural world. That natural resources are here for us to use.

There is a strong emphasis on  economic and financial Growth as the root of prosperity, happiness, & health.

Resilient Abundance in this context means healthy human communities, diverse and abundant economic opportunities with higher (and higher) profit margins.

The priority is focused on increased (and increasing) gross domestic product (GDP), and an increase in jobs.

Socio-Economic Management

What does it look like when priority is given to socio-economy?

Many people work in entirely socioeconomic fields such as finance, business, accounting, law, policy and/or IT and they live with minimal interaction with the outdoors. There is disconnection between economic and ecological benefits which sets up perverse incentives. This lead to using natural resources in an exploitative manner (e.g. overharvesting).

What Does This Lead To?

With socio-economic first this lead to separation between socio-economic gain and ecological impacts which in turn leads to negative externalities such as pollution, erosion, species extinctions, and an increased risk of pest/disease/high severity fires.

There are more likely to be boom and bust cycles due to the disconnection between ecosystem and human system of supply & demand. These are often addressed with technological fixes rather than systemic solutions, and thus, do not result in long-lasting resilience (the ‘whack-a-mole effect’).

This piece was first published in June 2019 at