The goal of a resilience-based approach to natural resource management is to maintain the capacity of social-ecological systems to provide desired ecosystem goods and services in the face of gradual change and unexpected shocks. However, the distillation of a large, wide-ranging, and rapidly growing body of resilience literature can be a daunting task for conservation practitioners. This is especially so because some scholars have argued that difficulties with problem framing, fundamental conflicts in values, pervasive uncertainties, emergent behaviors, and undesirable regime shifts suggest that the “era of management is over.” Yet it seems obvious that with managed systems decision making must be guided by a comparative assessment among management alternatives. This is true even if the primary concern of decision making is the preservation of system resilience. Thus, our goal here is to articulate a decision-making apparatus that is consistent with the principles of resilience, and to discuss the components of decision analysis that may require special attention in a resilience-based approach to biological conservation.
Conservation is dynamic because it depends not on the protection of static biodiversity features, but on maintenance of the ecological processes that sustain that biodiversity. Conservation is uncertain because ecological systems are inherently stochastic, and an understanding of ecological context and dynamics is inevitably incomplete. Adaptive resource management has been a natural response to these realities. Under uncertainty about system behaviors, dynamic decision making that accounts for future consequences of present decisions provides a way to address the problem of dual control, in which short-term returns to management are balanced with the learning necessary to increase long-term benefits. Notably, there has been a lack of guidance about how to plan and execute such a program for resilience management. Similarly, there has been little analysis of what would be involved in fitting an adaptive approach to resilience thinking. We focus here on two aspects of adaptive management that require special consideration in a resilience-based approach to conservation, namely dynamic valuation and models of system dynamics under uncertainty. The application of a decision framework for assessing and managing resilience is only now beginning to be addressed, but we believe the integration of these approaches holds great promise.