SYMP 17-6 - Sustainable human values: Adaptive management in the Anthropocene

Thursday, August 11, 2016: 10:40 AM
Grand Floridian Blrm C, Ft Lauderdale Convention Center
Bryan G. Norton, School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of Technology, Atlanta, GA

There is a tendency, perhaps even a consensus, in conservation ecology that when possible, efforts should return systems to their prior, less disturbed state.  Recent literature on restoration ecology, however, has revealed a less settled picture.  Management of some systems—especially those that are relatively “pristine”--can be guided by natural history, and justified by reference to the “integrity” of evolved systems.  For less disturbed systems, historical references provide a rough-and-ready set of restoration objectives.  This consensus, however, frays when attention is turned to systems heavily altered by human activities, because these “hybrid” systems exhibit both natural and human-managed features.  With respect to hybrid systems, Hobbs, et. al., suggest reversing the trend away from natural functioning when possible, but they also recognize that in some cases a historical recovery may be impossible.  When this is impossible, attention turns to “novel ecosystems” and the goals of restoration ecology become more controversial.  In these cases, advocacy regarding appropriate recovery plans inevitably raises complex and difficult problems of values.


Traditional, positivistic, value-neutral science can inform managers of what has happened and in some cases what will happen to novel ecosystems, but hard decisions in setting the goals of conservation actions will inevitably require value judgments.  If future management of ecological systems is to proceed rationally, the science of restorative ecology must be richer than positivistic science and capable of refining goals and values as well as learning how systems work.  In this presentation, I offer a version of Adaptive Management (AM) that can lead to better management choices by encouraging dialogue and deliberation regarding social values affected by managerial decisions.

AM, on my understanding, does not resolve value questions by introducing over-arching value premises like “manage to protect intrinsic value” or “manage to maximize ecosystem services”.  An adaptive collaborative management approach, which I advocate, does not solve value questions by applying a general fiat.  I propose, instead, to address these value questions through public dialogue and deliberation within a process that is guided by heuristics and an attempt to achieve procedural rationality.  Procedural rationality, in turn, is achieved when appropriate decision procedures are based on reason-giving, social learning and cooperative actions.