Practitioner's perceptions of adaptive management implementation in the United States

Take-away message. Our research explores differences between adaptive management in theory and in practice by drawing on the experiences of those in the field. We conducted a survey of individuals associated with the Collaborative Adaptive Management Network (CAMNet), a nongovernmental organization that promotes adaptive management and facilitates in its implementation. We were particularly interested in practitioners’ thoughts and opinions regarding the extent to which legal requirements and other institutional factors support or constrain successful adaptive management implementation.

Our research found that practitioners do feel hampered by legal and other institutional constraints limiting adaptive management implementation: well over 70% not only believed that constraints exist and could specifically name one or more example of a legal constraint on their work. Many practitioners are frustrated with the current level of legal and institutional support for adaptive management, and they specifically identified that National Environmental Policy and the Endangered Species Act as specific laws that warrant careful attention in this regard. While acknowledging that it is possible to have specific management goals and the institutional flexibility, the practitioners generally observed that goals themselves (for example, the goal of recovery for a specific species) can narrow management’s focus and limit flexibility. Practitioners also emphasized the importance of (1) investing in the development of a useful conceptual model of the system being managed and (2) gathering the necessary baseline data, and (3) providing sufficient funding for monitoring and other research needed for adaptive management to be successful. At the same time, we found practitioners generally optimistic about potential for legal and institutional reform.

Follow-up discussion question. How can laws and institutions change to better support adaptive management strategies? What experiences have you had with legal and institutional requirements? Please list any specific examples and strategies you would like to offer.

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