Adaptive Management and the WQMH

Adaptive Management is one of the components of the USFS Water Quality Management Handbook. It is the method that mitigation measures needed to avoid or minimize potentially significant impacts of the Conditional Waiver’s conditions will be evaluated.  Just what is “adaptive management” and, more important, why is adaptive management a key component of the WQMH?

Adaptive management is used where decisions can be made and actions modified during the project duration and a level of experimentation can be applied to achieve the desired goal.

You begin with a clear goal and an uncertain means to accomplish that goal.  You “adapt” your work steps as conditions change to complete your goal.  While adaptive management provides flexibility to change the active steps, it is highly dependent on monitoring, accuracy of data, and analysis of data.

Traditional management requires time-consuming and costly studies and analysis to determine a series of actions to achieve the desired goal.  It is difficult to predict success in this type of work environment when work conditions are uncertain.

Adaptive management is a systematic process for improving management policies and practices to ensure that the organization is prepared for the unexpected and geared for change.  Adaptive management is based on learning and changing strategies as you learn. 

In other words, you begin with a goal and work to achieve that goal.  In an adaptive management environment, you constantly monitor your progress towards achieving the goal and adjust your actions based on what you learn from monitoring your progress.

Resource management is hampered with uncertainty.  While the final goal may be clear, how to achieve that goal involves many uncertain actions and responses to actions.  The use of adaptive management allows the resource manager to changes activities when it is determined those activities will not achieve the desired goal.

Adaptive management is gaining popularity among resource management agencies and seeks to find a balance between gaining knowledge to improve the future while achieving the best short-term outcome based on current knowledge.  It is a tool to change management practices while learning how those practices will affect the desired goal.

Adaptive management relies on data, statistical analysis, computer models, and consensus to evaluate strategic objectives.  This open management process seeks to include past, present, and future stakeholders.  It is both a scientific process and a social process.

Adaptive management employs a a series of steps commonly referred to as the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle.  You “Plan” an action to achieve a goal.  You “Do” what you planned. You “Check” (monitor) the results of your action. You evaluate your action and “Act” through changing your action as necessary.  This cycle is repeated to ensure the goal is accomplished.

Adaptive management is based on learning and is either passive or active.  Passive adaptive management values learning as it improves decision outcomes as measured by specified metrics.

In contrast, active adaptive management explicitly incorporates learning (constant monitoring) as part of the objective function, and hence, decisions which improve learning are valued over those which do not.  Active adaptive management is more complex and costly to implement due to its high dependance on constant monitoring.

For more information about adaptive management, see:

Click here for more information about the USFS Water Quality Management Plan

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