OOS 26-8 - Communication for Sustainable Watershed Governance: Understanding the Four Key Ways That Adaptive Ecosystem Management Can Enhance Communication of Ecology to Decision-makers

Wednesday, August 10, 2011: 4:00 PM
16B, Austin Convention Center
Rachel J. Pawlitz, Southeast Ecological Science Center, U.S. Geological Survey, Gainesville, FL

Communicating the political relevance of ecology without allowing the science to become politicized is often a problem in natural resource management. This is, at its core, a science-policy communication issue tied to place-specific human dimensions of environmental decision-making, such as local stakeholders’ perspectives on their environment, local politics, and the transparency of local resource management decisions. Adaptive management (AM), ecosystem management (EM), and watershed management (WM) are all thought to be useful environmental governance frameworks for improving the sustainability of resource management. This review examines the historical context in which the shared set of adaptive ecosystem management (AEM) principles were developed and describes the types of communication problems they were designed to resolve.


The AEM principles provide four key communication functions that were previously weak or lacking in environmental impact analysis: (1) training resource managers about how local ecosystems function; (2) teaching decision-makers and the public to understand the specific benefits that local ecosystems provide so they can make decisions that sustain or restore those benefits, (3) reporting on how well regional management initiatives have performed in improving regional ecosystem functions and services; and (4) engaging local citizenry in discourse about managing natural resources and the environment. The effectiveness of AEM programs in resolving these communication needs depends on how well they have been designed to work within the local political context. For example, the author’s research suggests that attempts to adaptively manage the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint (ACF) watershed using an interstate Compact as a mechanism failed in part because the decision-making structures provided by the ACF Compact failed to meet these four needs, resulting in continued politicization of the science. The research suggests that AEM programs that effectively address the four main communication needs will better ground regional political discourse in scientific assessments of local ecosystem functions and services.

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