A scientific community pays tribute to one of its greats with a special issue of Coastal Management
When Mark Plummer died in 2014, he left behind a legacy of rigorous research, interdisciplinary collaboration, and creative innovation. This week, the environmental science journal
Coastal Management, of which Plummer was an associate editor for four years, is publishing a series of articles written by his former colleagues and collaborators in tribute to his life and career.
The special edition of the journal is edited by Leif Anderson, Plummer’s coworker at the Northwest Fisheries Science Center, and Phillip Levin, a former NWFSC scientist who is currently based at the University of Washington.
“Mark personified the promise of modern applied science,” they write
in one of the newly published articles. Plummer’s research, they explain, integrated economics, behavioral studies, and other social sciences into the management of natural resources.
This interdisciplinary approach was a theme throughout Plummer’s career, and led to his wide-ranging professional network Anderson and Levin refer to as an “interdisciplinary team.” Indeed, “many of the articles [in the special edition of Coastal Management] would not exist without some form of prior guidance or inspiration from Mark.”
Originally trained as an economist, Plummer’s first professional years were spent at the Federal Trade Commission. But he was never content to view the world through a single filter, and soon began applying theories of economics and human behavior to other fields. In 1995, he famously co-authored a book,
Noah’s Choice, that questioned core assumptions behind the Endangered Species Act while examining the human impacts of management decisions made under the auspices of the Act.
In another article for Coastal Management, Michelle Marvier, Peter Kareiva, and Emma Fuller take inspiration from what they call “Plummer’s legacy of questioning conservation and environmental orthodoxy” to examine and reevaluate “several common conservation memes and patterns of thinking.”
“Like Mark, we argue that, while high ideals are nice, effectiveness is what really matters,” they write. And, like Plummer, they integrate economic and behavioral perspectives into their approach to conservation and natural resource management. Humans are part of the ecosystem, after all, and will resist regulations that fail to take their needs into account. At the same time, trying to preserve ecosystems can forestall new inventions or other creative solutions to change.
As the three authors write, “[F]or integrated human–natural systems, managing for directed change may be more effective than trying to maintain ecosystems in some semblance of an original state.” Or, as Plummer and Mann put it back in 1995 in Noah’s Choice, “Crying no more extinction produces a noble sound, but it does nothing to stop extinction.”
The scientific community that Plummer left behind has continued to work together to address issues like these, and many others. Plummer passed away in May 2014. One year later, the Northwest Fisheries Science Center hosted a symposium inspired by Plummer’s life and work, a gathering that brought Plummer’s interdisciplinary team together under one roof. In addition to the 15 presenters, who came from as far away as California and Maryland, the audience at the day-long event included almost 100 attendees.
“It was inspiring and humbling,” said Anderson, “to see how many of us he had brought together.” They met to celebrate Mark Plummer, to recognize all they had learned from him, to pay tribute to his inspiring, monumental career—and to continue the work he had started.
Much of the research presented at the symposium in 2015 has been developed in the new Coastal Management articles. Some, like
that of Levin and a large group of co-authors, illustrate Plummer’s trademark interdisciplinarity—the authors combine social and economic insights to a model of the California Current ecosystem that runs along the entire West Coast of the United States, impacting hundreds of communities and affecting millions of people.
Others showcase the diversity of projects Plummer was involved with during his time at NWFSC. The effects of management—on
fishery communities, and on
the ability of fishermen to diversity their fishing activities—are examined in two articles. Another examines
the attitudes of residents to environmental issues, especially as these pertain to urban development.
One article, written by
Melissa Poe, Jamie Donatuto, and Terre Satterfield, exemplifies Plummer’s conviction that the interactions of people and the natural world must be studied together, not in isolation.
Through interviews and participatory workshops, the authors studied how shoreline activities such as clam or oyster harvesting help contribute to residents’ sense of place and overall wellbeing. Such information is invaluable for resource managers whose decisions affect not only the shellfish they’re protecting, but the people who harvest them, too.
Mark Plummer may be gone, but the work that he began continues. His unique perspective has been an inspiration to many, and lives on through their voices and in their ongoing research.