Trigger Itch

As Sharon writes, I have raised the possibility of using “triggers and thresholds” in some sort of adaptive management framework:  Here is the statement I made at last week’s science forum:

 One possible approach to this problem [how to practice adaptive management in the modern regulatory state] is to consider using some type of pre-negotiated commitments in an adaptive management framework.  These enforceable commitments would specify what actions will be taken by the agency if monitoring information shows X or Y.  In other words, some predetermined decisions, or more general courses of action, are built into the adaptive framework from the beginning (i.e., if this, then what).  Not every possible scenario can be prefigured of course, but having some thresholds or trigger mechanisms built into an adaptive framework might alleviate concerns about the amount of discretion ostensibly needed by agencies to plan and manage adaptively.

In retrospect, perhaps it’s wise to stay away from the term “threshold” because of its scientific usage and debate.  But triggers should still be considered by the agency.  I think the approach might work best in particular management situations, especially those that have an implementation monitoring program in place. 

I don’t think the approach is that uncommon actually.  Consider, for example, a report written by Chuck Quimby of USFS on using adaptive management options within a NEPA process focused on grazing (sorry, don’t have a PDF or link).  He discusses how various adaptive management options can be worked into EIS alternatives. 

Or consider various state wolf management plans whereby states commit to so many packs, and if monitoring shows they drop below some predetermined floor, a different suite of managerial requirements kick-in (more conservative wolf management). 

And to show that such an approach can cut in multiple directions consider the “adaptive timber management strategy” as used by the Tongass NF.  That strategy basically sets various triggers regarding timber harvesting and industrial development in SE Alaska.  If particular objectives are met, then additional roadless areas are opened for more harvesting.  This approach, if I recall correctly, was basically used by the Tongass as a way to more strategically open roadless lands for harvesting—rather than offering multiple sales in multiple roadless areas.  (Of course, conservationists see this as a complete bastardization of the AM approach, but it does demonstrate how adaptive management needs a purpose—it’s a means to an end—and that end needs to be defined by using NEPA). 

The approach could also be used in some restoration plan.  The USFS chooses a plan alternative (using NEPA) that emphasizes restoration.  Within that alternative are embedded a number of adaptive management options.  So, for example, if various restoration objectives are met by some date, then the agency will offer additional stewardship contracts in the following locations. 

 And one more hypothetical:  The USFS chooses a travel management alternative that connects two existing routes for OHV use.  Embedded within that alternative is an adaptive management option:  if an area adjacent to the connected route becomes illegally used and degraded, the new connected route shall be discontinued and decommissioned. 

 Sharon is right, however, because there will be lots of debate about where these trigger points are set.  (This has been a big issue in oil and gas planning and impacts to Grouse in Wyoming).  I imagine in most cases they will simply be politically negotiated, and in others scientists will be given a larger role to play (if used in the wildlife context). 

Martin Nie

2 thoughts on “Trigger Itch”

  1. > “In other words, some predetermined decisions, or more general courses of action, are built into the adaptive framework from the beginning (i.e., if this, then what).”

    Along that line is also the matter of predetermining (or at least postulating) at the beginning of an experimental treatment project what success will (or would likely) look like. Otherwise, what is considered success may later take some peculiar twists, especially if there is a political focus on the outcome.

  2. I would see the best outcomes as simple species targets of number of acres of occupied habitat. But the difference is that I would not hardwire changes in advance as our knowledge accumulates and likely, the climate will be changing faster, such that the next tier of management changes would not end up be the best to try next.

    What I would like better is if the species targets were not met, the collaborative group would meet again and decide the best approach to take next. They could be required to round up all the latest scientific information. If climate change is as serious as many think, species may actually move off the national forests and there will be no management practice, nor lack thereof, that could stop it. In those cases, the group may decide to focus on private land (if it is a landscape collaborative group) or even to add another species to the list. This may require a plan amendment, then and associated NEPA but that would be OK. Probably species habitat won’t change that much in five years or so and probably decisions should be revisited at that time anyway.

    Martin- you bring up another whole topic- I have a talk I give about section 102 of NEPA is necessary but not sufficient to meet section 101 goals (harmony between “man” and the environment). Increasingly in the 21st Century, issues about the environment on NFs (dumping, marijuana gardens, OHV abuse) cannot be resolved by documents written by the FS. Law enforcement and presence in the hinterlands is the key – these invoke different policy options other than the 20th century, piles of FS documents and litigation. The solutions will be more complex and require different tools for success.


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