Integrating Collaboration, Adaptive Management, and Scenario-Planning: Experiences at Las Cienegas National Conservation Area

Take-away message: Las Cienegas National Conservation Area is a spectacular parcel of public land that protects a high-grassland valley in southeast Arizona, including rare species and habitats, water sources vital to human and wildlife communities, and renowned archaeological and western cultural sites. Since 1995, the Bureau of Land Management has worked with stakeholders—local ranchers, environmental organizations, state and local agencies, recreation groups, and others—to establish watershed goals with measurable objectives, gather reliable scientific information about these objectives, create mechanisms that fold new information into decisions, and learn together about what works. Using this adaptive management process has improved scientific thinking at Las Cienegas, while collaboration has increased both the expertise available and stakeholder support for contentious decisions. As a result, this collaborative effort has generated over 15 years of sustained commitment and has attracted stakeholder investments in projects such as improved monitoring and research, grassland and riparian restoration, educational programs, protection of historic sites, and recovery of endangered species.

However, like many public lands, Las Cienegas is facing changes that threaten to overwhelm even the best management efforts. Most prominently, changes in climate and in agency policies and budgets are difficult to predict and control yet can have enormous impacts. To tackle these changes, we have begun adding innovative tools to build upon collaborative adaptive management. First, we propose that nesting the agreed-upon management objectives using core and conditional categories could improve the flexibility of these objectives in responding to climate and other changes. Second, we are using scenario planning to help anticipate and prepare for unpredictable and uncontrollable changes. These additional tools will help collaborative adaptive management efforts incorporate the uncertainty of rapid, external, and uncontrollable changes. Combined, these tools—collaboration, adaptive management, and scenario planning—allow land managers and stakeholders to more fully address the range of complexity that faces public lands.

Follow-up discussion question. How can the experiences gained at a local level (in building collaborative efforts, designing adaptive management approaches, incorporating temporal uncertainty, etc.) be institutionalized and applied to broader ecosystem scales? How can agencies incorporate these lessons into supportive programs, policies, and administrative procedures?

Read and comment on the complete article.

The link above will take you to the Ecology and Society website. To comment on this article, select the link to “Discussion” on the right hand side of the website.