Lessons from the Northwest about Commitment to Adaptive Management

Diagram from Dept of Interior Adaptive Management Technical Guide

Adaptive management could be a component of a new planning rule.  In previous posts we’ve discussed the need for adaptive governance.  We’ve discussed the legal challenges.   In a previous discussion thread, Martin points out what some consider a flaw in the 2005/2008 planning rule, where we “simultaneously deep six NEPA (at plan level) while forwarding some ill-defined adaptive management/EMS framework.”   But is it possible to make the commitment to adaptive management?  Does the Forest Service have the management and science capacity? 

It’s worth considering the experiences in the Pacific Northwest.  In a previous thread, Andy provided a link to a paper by Forrest Fleischman.  Here’s part of Fleischman’s analysis:

Examination of existing literature on the implementation of adaptive management by the USDA Forest Service in the Pacific Northwest offers a few key lessons, however it also raises many interesting questions that cannot be answered with existing data. All of the literature indicates that the designation of areas devoted to adaptive management was not a successful strategy for promoting adaptive management. It appears that only one adaptive management area actually implemented anything that could be called adaptive management, and in that one case, the administrative designation does not appear to have been an important causal factor – instead, it appears that the designation occurred because of innovative research that was already occurring at the site.” p. 17

Here is a presentation from a 2005 conference from Forest Service research scientist Bernard Bormann on adaptive management in the Northwest Forest Plan.  Here and here are some additional publications.

In his presentation, Bormann says that adaptive management is harder than they first thought because adaptive management was never considered a “core business”, and most adaptive management areas are now idle. There are institutional barriers including lack of leadership, low budgets, and lack of learning structures. One idea he has is that the next generation of plans might contain “learning objectives.”  

There are many compelling reasons for the Forest Service to move from an “event driven” planning model (where large plan revision efforts occur every 15 years) to a more “continuous” planning model.  NFMA itself says that the planning rule should “insure research on and (based on continous monitoring and assessment in the field) evaluation of the effects of each management system to the end that it will not produce substantial and permanent impairment of the productivity of the land.” 16 USC 1604(g)(3)(C)    What will it take to successfully implement this requirement?


2 thoughts on “Lessons from the Northwest about Commitment to Adaptive Management”

  1. John,

    I hope this important post doesn’t get lost in the shuffle. I’m curious if you or other USFS folks know of other notable cases of adaptive (National Forest) management? If not, well, that explains some of my hesitation about that (untested) “paradigm shift” in the 05/08 regs. But if so, what might we learn from those cases as well? Don’t we have more positive examples from which to learn?

    I know of at least one controversial example on the Tongass NF, see the Timber Sale Program Adaptive Management Strategy on p. 19 of the following ROD


    “Under the Timber Sale Program Adaptive Management Strategy, actual operation of the timber sale program will be implemented in three phases, as determined by actual timber harvest levels. In Phase 1, the timber program will be restricted to a portion of the suitable land base that excludes moderate and higher value roadless areas Final EIS, and is also available on the internet at includes approximately 537,000 suitable acres, or 69 percent of the total suitable land base. Should the actual level of timber harvest reach 100 MMBF for two consecutive fiscal years, the Tongass could then plan for timber projects in the Phase 2 portion of the approved suitable land base, resulting in a program that operates on 680,000 acres of suitable lands, including some moderate value roadless areas. Should timber harvest reach 150 MMBF for two consecutive fiscal years, the Tongass could then plan for timber projects in Phase 3, which includes the entire suitable land base.”

    That case, like others I know of, illustrate why an adaptive management strategy is a means to a politically-defined end–it does not answer fundamental questions about where we want to go and why.

    Thanks for another great, highly relevant post! Martin

  2. We might want to look at the BLM experience as well, for example a cursory googling yielded this .

    About 10 or so years ago, it seemed like BLM might have been putting more coordinated attention to us than we have, so it might be worth some review. Are there any bloggers from the BLM out there who could help?


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