5
Adaptive Management: Enhancing Scientific Inquiry and Policy Formulation

For the past few decades regional resource and environmental policy and management have been in and out of decision gridlocks in many regions of North America, Europe, and Australia. When issues are polarized it is a time of deep frustration . . . The result can be ecosystem deterioration, economic stagnation, and growing public mistrust. Alternatively, the result can be an abrupt reevaluation of the fundamental source of the problems, a redirection of policy toward restoration, and implementation of a process of planning and management that provides continually updated understandings as well as economic or social product.

C. S. Holling, 1995

Adaptive management is an approach to natural resources management that promotes carefully-designed management actions, assessment of these actions’ impacts, and subsequent policy adjustments. An adaptive management strategy explores ways to couple natural and social systems in mutually beneficial ways. It seeks to maintain or restore ecosystem resilience, which is defined as the capacity of key ecosystem structures and processes to persist and adapt over time in the face of natural and anthropogenic challenges (Gunderson et al., 1995; Light, 2001). Adaptive management was initially conceived as a way to overcome limitations of static environmental assessment and management approaches (Holling, 1978) and it encompasses efforts to improve understanding of how culture, policy, and social systems are interwoven and affect ecosystems from local to global scales (Gunderson et al., 1995; Light et al., 1989). The premises that underpin adaptive management are theoretically and practically appealing:

Most principles of decision-making under uncertainty are simply common sense. We must consider a variety of plausible hypotheses about the world; consider a variety of possible strategies; favor actions that are robust to uncertainties; hedge; favor actions that are informative; probe



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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery 5 Adaptive Management: Enhancing Scientific Inquiry and Policy Formulation For the past few decades regional resource and environmental policy and management have been in and out of decision gridlocks in many regions of North America, Europe, and Australia. When issues are polarized it is a time of deep frustration . . . The result can be ecosystem deterioration, economic stagnation, and growing public mistrust. Alternatively, the result can be an abrupt reevaluation of the fundamental source of the problems, a redirection of policy toward restoration, and implementation of a process of planning and management that provides continually updated understandings as well as economic or social product. C. S. Holling, 1995 Adaptive management is an approach to natural resources management that promotes carefully-designed management actions, assessment of these actions’ impacts, and subsequent policy adjustments. An adaptive management strategy explores ways to couple natural and social systems in mutually beneficial ways. It seeks to maintain or restore ecosystem resilience, which is defined as the capacity of key ecosystem structures and processes to persist and adapt over time in the face of natural and anthropogenic challenges (Gunderson et al., 1995; Light, 2001). Adaptive management was initially conceived as a way to overcome limitations of static environmental assessment and management approaches (Holling, 1978) and it encompasses efforts to improve understanding of how culture, policy, and social systems are interwoven and affect ecosystems from local to global scales (Gunderson et al., 1995; Light et al., 1989). The premises that underpin adaptive management are theoretically and practically appealing: Most principles of decision-making under uncertainty are simply common sense. We must consider a variety of plausible hypotheses about the world; consider a variety of possible strategies; favor actions that are robust to uncertainties; hedge; favor actions that are informative; probe

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery and experiment; monitor results; update assessments and modify policy accordingly; and favor actions that are reversible (Ludwig et al., 1993). Adaptive management recognizes that ecological and social systems are not static, but that they evolve in ways that are often unpredictable over both time and space. In addition to flux in natural systems, adaptive management assumes that human systems change and intervene, and thus induce subsequent ecological adjustments. These interactions then contribute to or detract from ecological stability and resilience. Adaptive management seeks to narrow differences among stakeholders by encouraging them to implement new approaches that will allow people to live with and profit from natural ecosystem variability at socially-acceptable levels of risk (Light et al., 1989). Adaptive management is characterized by the following components and assumptions: It maintains and restores some degree of ecosystem resilience. Resilience represents an ecosystem’s capacity for self-renewal. Resilient river systems contain a high degree of diversity of indigenous animal and plant life. The ecological diversity of the pre-regulation Missouri River was a function of 1) cut-and-fill alluviation, and 2) a high degree of hydrologic variability that provided spring and summer flood pulses, low flows at other times of the year, and that connected the river’s main channel, floodplain, and backwaters. Recovery of some portion of these pre-regulation processes is essential to restoring resilience in the Missouri River ecosystem. Adaptive management programs commonly aim for partial restoration of natural ecosystem structure and functions. It explicitly recognizes and seeks to profit from uncertainty. The search for certainty in ecosystem management is illusory: “Attempts to eliminate uncertainty are often delusory and counterproductive” (Holling, 1978). The formulation and perpetuation of ecosystem management policies based on certitude is not only conceptually unsound, but it is also likely to produce ineffective, if not ecologically destructive, policies. The quest for certainty creates dependency, and dependency fosters rigidity. Natural resources management policies that seek to eliminate uncertainty may enjoy initial successes, but in the long run often produce unexpected and disappointing results. Forest management policies in the western United States, for example, sought aggressively to reduce forest fires in the decades following World War II. These fire suppression policies for years were relatively successful at reducing fires. Over time, however, limitations of efforts to reduce the uncertainties (and dangers) of fire outbreaks became evident, as it was learned that occasional, smaller fires help control pests

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery and limit the accumulation of biomass fuel (Pyne, 1998). Although more frequent, smaller fires were largely contained, these policies eventually resulted in massive forest fires, such as those in Yellowstone National Park in 1988 and in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana in 1999. Reality often changes faster than humans can comprehend. Our conception of reality is always partial and flawed, particularly at the scale of large, complex systems such as major river basins. As the speed, scale, and complexity of human-induced environmental changes increase, natural systems are pushed to the limits of stability, creating more change. The implication for management is clear. Managers cannot plan or regulate their way out of every problem, for what is not known or is poorly understood, the capacity to adapt must be added to the repertoire of management goals. It promotes interdisciplinary collaboration and inquiry. In addition to biophysical concepts, sound ecosystem management also entails the consideration of social science issues. Economic values, public perception of and interest in ecosystem benefits, the use of scientific information by management agencies, and the ability of organizations to change and adapt are examples of social science topics that must be addressed in adaptive management. Physical, biological, and social scientists must thus collaborate on these and other science-policy issues within adaptive management programs. It uses models to support decisions and collaboration. Adaptive management has a tradition of developing simulation models that are used to aid decision making. Expert opinions are used to inform model building and to help identify uncertainties before lengthy and costly data-collection efforts are undertaken. This modeling generally includes these steps: Bound the problem. Policy domains, key variables, time horizons, spatial area, and spatial resolution are identified and defined. Model invalidation. There is always something in the real world that an abstract model will fail to mimic properly. Modeling should therefore explore the limits of credibility. Simplification and compression. Adaptive management modeling should encapsulate understanding in clear and insightful ways. Develop policy alternatives. The goal is to explore the full range of options based on diverse perspectives, not create a perfect policy solution. Evaluate policy performance with a broad range of stakeholders. This step seeks to understand how alternative composite scenarios might perform under meaningful characterizations of management systems.

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery It seeks meaningful representation of a wide array of interest groups. Engaging a broad cross-section of people and organizations in developing vision and goals has been part of other programs for adaptive management and restoration of large U.S. river systems. In the Columbia River basin, for example, the Northwest Power Planning Council has since the early 1980s worked closely with tribal, state, and local governments in an effort to lower barriers to participation in Columbia River management decisions (Lee, 1989). In the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam, the federal Adaptive Management Work Group includes representatives from twenty-five stakeholder groups (NRC, 1999b). Forging river and aquatic ecosystem management objectives that represent and satisfy a broad range of constituents will be necessary in moving toward adaptive management in the Missouri. It uses ecosystem monitoring to evaluate impacts of management actions. Adaptive management depends greatly upon environmental research and monitoring to evaluate the impacts of management actions. There has been much discussion regarding a potential program for monitoring ecological conditions and changes across the Missouri River basin. Decisions regarding which variables to monitor represent a serious challenge for new monitoring efforts. When such a program is initiated, it should not be delayed by this challenge. Missouri River ecosystem monitoring programs should revolve around a set of core variables relevant to river system management decisions. With evolving environmental conditions and scientific knowledge, variables important for policy formulation may change. Monitoring programs thus must have the flexibility to be able to identify and monitor new and potentially useful variables. A conceptual modeling effort would provide an appropriate framework within which to consider specific monitoring needs and variables. If a Missouri River monitoring program is enacted, it should be closely coupled to adaptive management experiments and river management decisions. Science and monitoring efforts must not become ends in themselves, but rather should be clearly linked to management decisions and policy changes. It should also be recognized that monitoring and the larger adaptive management program, like other aspects of infrastructure operation and maintenance, will require a sustained commitment of resources. COMMITTEE COMMENTARY Successful implementation of adaptive management experiments and programs entails significant scientific, social, and political challenges. Adaptive management seeks to live with and profit from uncertainty and vari-

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery ability in natural and social systems. Adaptive management policies may challenge existing natural resources management policies, as these policies often seek to reduce or eliminate uncertainty and variability. The adaptive management paradigm posits that such efforts are counterproductive because some uncertainties in natural and social systems are simply irreducible. The Missouri River ecosystem, for example, contains ecological uncertainties and unknowns that scientific studies can reduce only so much, and the quest to eliminate variability from natural systems often has undesirable ecological effects. For example, the field of large river science has documented the ecological importance of the natural flood pulse. Reducing this natural variability reduces a key component of ecosystem health. In its efforts to implement management actions to restore ecosystem variability, adaptive management programs may challenge political and economic structures that require reliability and that profit from tightly controlled ecosystems. Stakeholders with vested interests in tightly controlled systems may wield great political influence and may resist changes to traditional management policies. This resistance is often understandable, as adaptive management may ask some stakeholders to adjust the timing and level of benefits derived from system management. Examples from river management scenarios include hydropower distributors who are asked to generate less hydroelectricity in a controlled release from a reservoir, or towboat operators who are asked to suspend operations during planned high or low flows. These types of foregone benefits are among the larger costs of implementing adaptive management. Thus, implementing an adaptive management program that promotes a departure from the status quo usually requires tremendous political will. The context of Missouri River management contains powerful status quo interests, a history of mistrust and environmental decline, and current management controversies. Successful implementation of adaptive management would test the region’s and nation’s commitment to improving the system’s ecological conditions and to realizing new opportunities in connection with these improvements. Adaptive management also entails securing resources to establish monitoring programs, as well as enlisting scientists to initiate these programs and to interpret and communicate scientific findings. A commitment to long-term stakeholder participation requires firm and significant commitments of resources and time from participating interest groups, some of which may possess only limited resources. But resources are necessary to coordinate stakeholder and science meetings and related activities, as well as to defray administrative and facilitation costs. These undertakings will be complex and, at times, controversial. Advice from an independent, interdisciplinary scientific group will be useful in helping resolve differences of opinion regarding scientific and science policy issues. Moreover, adap-

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The Missouri River Ecosystem: Exploring the Prospects for Recovery tive management experiments are likely to challenge traditional interests and users, which are likely to resist changes that depart from the status quo. For adaptive management to work on the Missouri River, Congress must support the concept and all it entails—including experimentation and uncertainty—as well as provide the resources necessary to sustain a commitment toward recovering some Missouri River ecosystem benefits. Adaptive management efforts will generally increase in complexity as the size of the ecosystem in which they are undertaken increases. No adaptive management program has been successfully implemented in an ecosystem on the scale of the Missouri River basin. The scale and the history of differences and conflicts in water development in the Missouri River basin constitute a significant barrier to the creation of flexible organizations able to promote harmony, conservation, equity, and environmental protection. This committee harbors no illusion that adaptive management is a panacea for slicing through the basin’s political and economic realities on the way to Missouri River recovery. The way forward will entail significant resources, as well as compromises that have not been a prominent part of the basin’s water development history. It will also entail new governance structures. Despite the challenges, or perhaps because of them, it is time for fresh thinking and new approaches to Missouri River management. Although adaptive management may not represent the perfect solution for Missouri River management, concise paradigms for effectively managing large river systems have yet to be found. An effective adaptive management program will require political support for its implementation. Adaptive management will not immediately resolve all water resources conflicts in the basin, but it holds promise in helping move away from the current situation of ecological decline and policy paralysis. An arrangement in which the Corps of Engineers was responsible for distributing benefits from dam and reservoir operations may have been appropriate in 1950. Today, however, these decisions should based on collaborative discussions between a broad range of stakeholders that include other federal agencies, the Missouri River basin states, tribal groups, environmental groups, floodplain farmers and other residents, the navigation industry, municipalities and citizen groups, and other nongovernmental entities.