Partnerships and co-operative environmental management are increasing worldwide as is the call for scientific input in the public process of ecosystem management. In Hawaii, private landowners, non-governmental organizations, and state and federal agencies have formed watershed partnerships to conserve and better manage upland forested watersheds. In this paper, findings of an international workshop convened in Hawaii to explore the strengths of approaches used to assess stakeholder values of environmental resources and foster consensus in the public process of ecosystem management are presented. Authors draw upon field experience in projects throughout Hawaii, Southeast Asia, Africa and the US mainland to derive a set of lessons learned that can be applied to Hawaiian and other watershed partnerships in an effort to promote consensus and sustainable ecosystem management. Interdisciplinary science-based models can serve as effective tools to identify areas of potential consensus in the process of ecosystem management. Effective integration of scientific input in co-operative ecosystem management depends on the role of science, the stakeholders and decision-makers involved, and the common language utilized to compare tradeoffs. Trust is essential to consensus building and the integration of scientific input must be transparent and inclusive of public feedback. Consideration of all relevant stakeholders and the actual benefits and costs of management activities to each stakeholder is essential. Perceptions and intuitive responses of people can be as influential as analytical processes in decision-making and must be addressed. Deliberative, dynamic and iterative decision-making processes all influence the level of stakeholder achievement of consensus. In Hawaii, application of lessons learned can promote more informed and democratic decision processes, quality scientific analysis that is relevant, and legitimacy and public acceptance of ecosystem management.