Closing the adaptive management loop: Theory versus practice
Increasingly, “adaptive management” is being proposed by a variety of land management agencies as the solution to resolve conflicts among the management of sensitive resources and other objectives driven by human demands. The Forest Service in 2004 revised land management plans for national forests covering over 11 million acres in the Sierra Nevada. A central component to this decision was the use of “adaptive management” to manage risk to resources and resolve conflicts among the objectives of timber extraction, fire and fuels management, forest health and the habitat requirements for at-risk wildlife. This decision launched an adaptive management program that attempted to bring land managers, scientists, and stakeholders together to conduct experimentation, evaluate and discuss results, learn about the ecological and social landscapes that were affected, and evaluate if the adopted management direction was achieving the goals of the revised forest plans. Through my participation as a stakeholder in the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Program (SNAMP), we sought to establish and participate in a process that clearly evaluated the consequences of management and used that information to evaluate the need to change future management.
By its very nature, land management is about the intersection between people and ecology. Establishing a common language and understanding about SNAMP’s intent and objectives was essential to implementing the program and required a significant investment of time and capacity to accomplish. One of the most challenging aspects of this effort has been the synchronization of actions through time to implement the program. Synchronization of staff resources, funding, research timelines and scope, implementation of treatments, and stakeholder participation are a few among the many aspects of the program that required coordination. The timing and time frame for the program was also challenged by changes in agency leadership, annual budget cycles, and continuity of participation. Ultimately, we found that the life cycle of the 7-year experimental design implemented in this program was not a good match for the annual project implementation and budgeting schedule that drives decision making in public agencies. Research products from SNAMP without question contribute to a better understanding of this ecosystem; however, a crucial step in the adaptive management loop, i.e. a comprehensive evaluation of post-treatment results in light of future management actions, has not yet been completed.