The evolving concept of ecosystem management is the focus of much current debate. To clarify discussion and provide a framework for implementation, I trace the historical development of ecosystem management, provide a working definition, and summarize dominant themes taken from an extensive literature review. The general goal of maintaining ecological integrity is discussed along with five specific goals: maintaining viable populations, ecosystem representation, maintaining ecological process (i e., natural disturbance regimes), protecting evolutionary potential of species and ecosystems, and accommodating human use in light of the above. Short-term policy implications of ecosystem management for several groups of key actors (scientists, policymakers, managers, citizens) are discussed. Long-term (>100 years) policy implications are also reviewed including reframing environmental values, fostering cooperation, and evaluating success. Ecosystem management is not just about science nor is it simply an extension of traditional resource management; it offers a fundamental reframing of how humans may work with nature.