Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 11, Issue 4, pp 659-669

First online:

Teaching ethical analysis in environmental management decisions: A process-oriented approach

  • Fred Van DykeAffiliated withDepartment of Biology, Wheaton College Email author 

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The general public and environmental policy makers often perceive management actions of environmental managers as “science,” when such actions are, in fact, value judgments about when to intervene in natural processes. The choice of action requires ethical as well as scientific analysis because managers must choose a normative outcome to direct their intervention. I examine a management case study involving prescribed burning of sagebrush (Artemisia tridentata) communities in south-central Montana (USA) to illustrate how to teach students to ethically evaluate a management action by precisely identifying: 1) the proposed management action, 2) the deficiency of the system to be remedied by the action, 3) the stakeholders affected by the action, and 4) the category and type of values affirmed in the management action. Through such analysis, students are taught to recognize implicit and explicit value judgments associated with management actions, identify stakeholders to whom managers have legitimate ethical obligations, and practice a general method of ethical analysis applicable to many forms of environmental management.


conservation biology conservation ethics ethical analysis environmental ethics environmental management regulatory science