What is an ecosystem?
It is a geographic area including all the living organisms (people, plants, animals, and microorganisms), their physical surroundings (such as soil, water, and air), and the natural cycles that sustain them. All of these elements are interconnected. Managing any one resource affects the others in that ecosystem. Ecosystems can be small (a single stand of aspen) or large (an entire watershed including hundreds of forest stands across many different ownerships).
What is a watershed?
A watershed is the total land area from which water drains into a single stream, lake, or ocean.
Why work on ecosystems?
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has adopted an ecosystem approach to conservation because we can^t just look at a single animal, species, or piece of land in isolation from all that is around it. We all realize that we are not going to achieve conservation within the boundaries of a National Wildlife Refuge, that we are not going to restore aquatic resources with a National Fish Hatchery, and that listing an endangered species is not going to conserve the system. All of these are interconnected. If we disturb or manage one, all of the others will be affected.
The ecosystem approach is comprehensive. It^s based on all of the biological resources within a watershed and it considers the economic health of communities within that watershed.
The Service^s mission is "Working with others, to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people." We can^t restore an ecosystem and the plants and animals within it without the assistance of partners.
All of the Service^s field units (National Wildlife Refuges, National Fish Hatcheries, Law Enforcement, Ecological Services offices, Fishery Resources Offices) within a watershed combine forces to tackle projects, improving efficiency and effectiveness.
Each unit is represented by an ecosystem team which has developed its own biologically- based strategy. The Service has identified and defined boundaries for 53 ecosystem units by grouping the USGS defined watersheds.