Navigating a Murky Adaptive Co-Management Governance Network: The Agua Fria Watershed, Arizona, USA

Take-away message: Scientists and practitioners are working to bring about a cultural shift towards landscape-scale collaborative adaptive management. To accomplish this in the long-term, they must build trust and maintain meaningful engagement in the short-term. Through a focus on trust-building and meaningful engagement, a new adaptive co-management (ACM) arrangement in the Agua Fria watershed has an increased likelihood of “sticking” past the first ten months establishment. At Agua Fria, several points of conflict emerged that had the potential to derail positive progress. However, facilitators with lessons and expertise from a long-enduring co-management project guided adjustments in the process rather than allowing project to derail.

Caution should be exercised when building upon and scaling up existing projects, particularly as government agencies require or encourage ACM processes, but, our case illustrates that lessons regarding process and facilitation from a long-enduring project, Las Cienegas, were transferable, as long as the shared goals and structures developed for management were place specific. Our work demonstrates that general lessons and approaches from one project may be transferable, but particular institutions, management structures, or projects must be place-specific.

For newly emerging ACM processes, attention should be paid to building trust, establishing meaningful engagement, and maintaining accountability. As public agencies establish and expand ACM governance networks throughout the Western USA, this case sheds light on how to maintain a shared vision and forward momentum within an inherently murky and shared decision-making environment. In this emerging process, it is unclear whether decisions and goals established by the ACM planning team will translate to agency decisions both within and outside the boundaries of the project area, but as one of the BLM’s “test cases” the early success of Agua Fria surely foreshadows continued scaling of inter-agency, stakeholder ACM governance networks across the West.

Follow-up discussion question. Does a murky governance network help or hinder successful adaptive co-management?

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