The Art and Promise of Adaptive Governance

Adaptive Governance is art and science, blended with management and politics. It is art since political decision-making is an art. One face of adaptive governance is a dance wherein public land managers engage with particularly ecological and social scientists in learning from experience about transformations in ecosystems and institutions. The dance is broadened further, since both managers and scientists dance with the public, both as interested individuals and communities of interest alongside communities of place.

The promise of adaptive governance for the US Forest Service and other public lands agencies is that it might heal the wounds from many of the forest and rangeland wars that have only festered during thirty years of failed rational planning games. The promise too is that if properly framed and practiced, adaptive governance could free up talent at the national forest level to do the many worthwhile jobs that need attending to at that level, like road, trail, and campground and other recreation-related maintenance, like permit administration, and program and project management (fire, timber, recreation, minerals, grazing, etc.), like attending to trespass and encroachment problems, fragmentation of land ownership patterns/problems, and so on. Forest-level people would not have to attend to many tasks now burdening them under the current “planning” frame—framed as rational planning with public input.

One problem I’ve been harping about for years is that “wicked problems” can not be tamed via rational planning. They have to be attended to through the art of political decision-making. Take a look at the Fishlake National Forest in central Utah, for example. It is widely known for its ATV experiences, jamborees, etc. It is also a relatively easily-accessible place for big game hunting, via various sorts of Off Highway Vehicles. [In younger years I used to wander the roads there, and wander off the roads, looking for big mule deer.] The decisions, or political/social happenstance, that took the Fishlake in this direction, are the stuff of politics, not science.

Some of the tasks that now appear to be the responsibility of forest-level managers and practitioners would be handled closer to the center or the Forest Service (and at the center, the USFS Washington Office). These are the tasks of landscape and broader-scaled assessments, monitoring efforts, and related problem staging/resolution/learning as adaptive management policy-setting. In addition, the center of the organization would be held accountable to steer and monitor deeper “double-loop” learning that comes from thoughtful examination, reflection upon, and learning from “Transformations in Human and Natural systems,” the subtitle of Lance Gunderson and CS Holling’s Panarchy. Finally the center of the Forest Service would be the keeper of the Vision/Mission of the agency, reconciled appropriately with the Congress and the Administration. [Note: Mission/vision stuff should not be framed as "NFMA planning," but still might be part of broader strategy setting and contained-in-part by a FS Strategic Plan.]

Critiquing Adaptive Governance
I have spent the last week or two trying to better understand applied adaptive governance, to see whether the time to try it formally on American public lands is at hand. I ran across several interesting investigations [which I'll not link to today, but may detail further later], looking into the art and practice of adaptive governance or what we might call adaptive management in its public form. In almost every case the authors were reluctant to embrace adaptive governance fully since the track record is not very good, for various and sundry reasons. Once problem frequently noted was that the practice was too technical, too much engaged in “scientific rationality.” On the other extreme, some authors noted a tendency for unwarranted devolution; wherein the process was captured by too narrowly framed interests, often dominated by “locals.” In almost every case, US authors failed to investigate the influence of “political backlash” by the Bush/Cheney Administration as they waged war on the Clinton Administration’s initial strides at adaptive governance under banners of “Ecosystem Management” and “Collaborative Stewardship.” This backlash began earlier with the so-called “Gingrich Revolution”— remember the “Contract On With America”? [Want some fun? Google up: "contract with america" "public lands"] Why was the backlash missed? I don’t see how you can separate adaptive governance efforts from the politics that enfold them.

As mentioned earlier, critical review authors cite the fact that adaptive management in its public form is too technical, too much centered in technocratic rationality. But adaptive governance need not be so burdened. Adaptive governance can operate in policy-development spaces far apart from those where “adaptive management experiments” are structured, tested, and rationalized. But it can embrace those too, where they make most sense. This is the direction some of us tried to take the Forest Service in the early 1990s, under the banner “A Shared Approach to Ecosystem Management,” outlined in part here. It lives today under the banner “adaptive governance.”

Embracing Adaptive Governance
An important aspect of the emergence of adaptive governance is that it is about humans and their institutional settings—that these often fall into the same rigidity traps (problems of overly-tight coupling) and poverty traps that we talk about in so-called natural systems. This is easily seen through the lenses of Compass and Gyroscope: Integrating Science and Politics for the Environment (1993), Barriers and Bridges to the Renewal of Ecosystems and Institutions (1995), and Panarchy: Understanding Transformations in Human and Natural Systems (2002).

I believe that the time it right to more-fully embrace adaptive governance—to replace what has been forest planning. But a big barrier is that the Forest Service remains a technocracy, a big-believer in science and management, with little or no formal emphasis on the art of “forestry,” the art of “political decision-making,” etc. I remember all too well the many Forest Service social science meetings where I complained that two words (and practices) were forbidden in both voice and action: politics and psychology.

In a future post I will lay out a roadmap to begin that journey as a rewrite to the administrative “rule” that is being batted around in Draft form, improperly framed as a “planning rule.” Here, I’ll just leave one definition of adaptive governance. Maybe someone here can come up with a better one.

Adaptive Governance: linking a broad range of actors at multiple scales to deal with the interrelated dynamics of resources and ecosystems, management systems and social systems, as well as uncertainty, unpredictability, and surprise. Adaptive governance focuses on experimentation and learning, and it brings together research on institutions and organizations for collaboration, collective action, and conflict resolution in relation to natural resource and ecosystem management. The essential role of individuals needs to be recognized in this context (e.g., leadership, trust building, vision, and meaning); their social relations (e.g., actor groups, knowledge systems, social memory) and social networks serve as the web that tie together the adaptive governance system. It has cross-level and cross-scale activities and includes governmental policies that frame creativity.

From “Adaptive Governance of Social-Ecological Systems”, Carl Folke, Thomas Hahn, Per Olsson, and Jon Norberg, Annu. Rev. Environ. Resour. 2005. 30:441-473 (pdf)

Related:
Adaptive Governance and Forest Planning, John Rupe, NCFP, Feb. 2010
Book review of Adaptive Governance: Integrating Science, Policy, and Decision Making, by Ronald D. Brunner, Toddi A. Steelman, Lindy Coe-Juell, Christina M. Crowley, Christine M. Edwards, Donna W. Tucker, 2005
Collaboration Reading for Thoughtful Practitioners, Dave Iverson 2006
Taking Uncertainty Seriously: Adaptive Governance and International Trade (pdf), Rosie Cooney and Andrew T.F. Lang, The European Journal of International Law 18(3), 2007

9 Comments

  1. Dave- in your previous post you got me thinking about the 05 Rule and how perhaps we ought to take a longer view. We determine we need a rule, then we have a timeline and try to move forward while the window is open- before the next election.

    Another approach would have been to take our ideas and really pilot them. Take a couple of forests with really old plans- and try different ideas on moving toward adaptive governance on each one. Make a big deal about the pilots- if something prevents them from being able to try out their ideas, have Congress authorize exceptions. As I’ve written about before, I was involved in the 90’s pilots (I was on the Ochoco) where we pioneered many exciting things like the “bucket o’ money.”

    At the end of say, three years we could know quite a bit about what would work in practice or not, and then potentially be able to write a regulation to foster adaptive governance. Just a thought.

    • I don’t know how to judge when windows open up. I blew it, perchance, by not shouting louder before the 2000 rule. I figured that the 2005 rule was a “throwaway” along with most all else during that era. I was surprised that the Obama group would open the window so soon. But then they, else the Forest Service, closed the window almost immediately by not really opening up the process to inquiry or debate.

      As to trying Adaptive Governance in “implementation,” that is “in spite of a bad rule,” I think that is what is already being done in R3, R5, maybe in R6, and in R8. My version of adaptive governance has much to do with levels above the “forest,” and by bringing in Research and outside academics. If we were to try to single out a couple of forests for experimentation, we’d have to agree on what parts of adaptive governance were left to the forest-level for consideration. In part that is what these posts have been about: trying to get folks to discuss which parts really ought to be done by forest, and what parts are better done elsewhere. The current version of the rule, DRAFT, leaves me with the impression that the WO still wants to shuttle all the NFMA responsibility onto the Forest Supervisor (and staff), while all others remain largely unaccountable.

    • Another approach would have been to take our ideas and really pilot them. Take a couple of forests with really old plans- and try different ideas on moving toward adaptive governance on each one. Make a big deal about the pilots- if something prevents them from being able to try out their ideas, have Congress authorize exceptions

      I don’t see what’s stopping any forest from trying out some pieces of what Dave is calling adaptive governance. Except that the work that needs to be getting done at higher scales isn’t occurring. As Dave says, some forests are already doing a version of it.

  2. One could say that the Forest Service didn’t do NEPA when they unilaterally changed forest management to suit the California Spotted Owl, in their range. They just magically declared that clearcutting and highgrading (trees above 30″ dbh) are now banned. It was necessary, and my career has included the awkward transformation. The first timber sale I ever worked on had an average cut tree diameter of 47″ dbh. The last one I worked on had an average cut tree diameter of 14″ dbh. At one point, the Sierra Nevada Framework reduced diameter limits all the way down to 12″ dbh. At that point, the ASQ was 1/30th of the peak in the late 80’s.

    The CASPO guidelines make for a rather strict policy that could have been better tailored to allow adaptation. They also allowed one entry in certain types of stands. When that one entry occurred back in 1994, it is off-limits to further thinning that would be benficial 17 years later. Who would’ve thought that we should have taken more trees back in 1994?!? *smirks*

    I’m also very concerned that we will end up with an unimplementable forest management program. More complex, more ambitious, more vague, more undefensible and more unintended consequences. Will the new rule make anything LESS, once more “protections” have been added? If the new rule is all about “climate change”, why doesn’t the Rule address the intimately-associated salvage logging issue? Will that be left to individual Forest Plans, using local data and experience? Or will a reduction of snags in a wildfire continue to be subject to rigid nationwide limitations and legal injunctions? Do we really need “pristine” dead forests?

  3. Given that the Folke et al. definition that you cited above of adaptive governance is wide ranging and full of ideas :

    Adaptive Governance: linking a broad range of actors at multiple scales to deal with the interrelated dynamics of resources and ecosystems, management systems and social systems, as well as uncertainty, unpredictability, and surprise. Adaptive governance focuses on experimentation and learning, and it brings together research on institutions and organizations for collaboration, collective action, and conflict resolution in relation to natural resource and ecosystem management. The essential role of individuals needs to be recognized in this context (e.g., leadership, trust building, vision, and meaning); their social relations (e.g., actor groups, knowledge systems, social memory) and social networks serve as the web that tie together the adaptive governance system. It has cross-level and cross-scale activities and includes governmental policies that frame creativity.

    I would be interested in what you all (at least Dave and Jim, who have examples) think are some specific activities that some forests or regions are doing that move in this direction.

    • Region Eight started down this road in the early 90’s when it conceived the Red Cockaded Woodpecker Summit. The summit, convened by the National Wildlife Federation, brought together all key scientists and players affected by the issue to arrive at consensus regarding the biology of the bird. The subsequent EIS was used to amend all forest plans within the bird’s range. Somebody (maybe Ralph Walker, formerly of the USFS and FWS) should write up “The Lessons of the RCW” as a comparison to how things went with the spotted owl in the Northwest.

      Currently, the plan revision for the National Forests in Mississippi may be the best example in R8 of broad stakeholder involvement at the forest level leading to development of a plan that is widely-supported. The effort has taken way longer than it should have, suffering form false starts under the 2005 and 2008 rules, but is back on track using the 1982 rule. It’s a good case for how the existing regulations to do not prohibit a forest from using new approaches such as an analysis of and vision for “species and ecological system diversity.”

      • As I think through Adaptive Governance I am inclined to think (as others here have) that bigger rather than smaller collaborative units make a lot of sense for things like species endangerment, ecosystems management (clean water, clean air, species composition, structure function, etc.). That is why a collaboration on the NFs in Mississippi makes sense. That is why there are broader discussions ongoing (and past) in Calif. and in the NW as well as in the SE. Where else?

        If/when these collaborations yield results it sets a “decision-container” frame around decisions closer to the ground. That is, in part, the “art” of Adaptive Governance.

        Another part of the art is to take the same close look at organizational structure, function, composition that is done with ecosystems. That second part of the system is a main reason for many of my posts. There seems to be a blind spot in FS thinking/action on this latter “part.”

        • Another part of the art is to take the same close look at organizational structure, function, composition that is done with ecosystems. That second part of the system is a main reason for many of my posts. There seems to be a blind spot in FS thinking/action on this latter “part.”

          And even more so “blind fear” of another layer of planning. In the South, there are a set of decisions that might best be made at the level of Coastal Plains, Piedmont, Mountains, Interior Highlands. These division would include parts of 2 regions and many states. It wouldn’t have to cost more (part of the fear) if pushing some decisions up to these levels made forest planning simpler. The traditional Forest Service line, though has been “three planning levels”, end of discussion. I wouldn’t attempt this shift by starting with reorganization– too much political capital would have to be expended. Rather, start with function and form will eventually follow.

  4. Pingback: Opportunity (and Context) Lost: 2012 NFMA Planning Rule « A New Century of Forest Planning

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