Adaptive Governance and Forest Planning
Army Officer at Nine Mile Camp, Mt. Baker National Forest, 1933, photo by W.L. Baker
The more we look at the literature, the more evidence we find that our current NFMA management system doesn’t align with the current thinking about land use management. We gravitate toward adaptive management, but we don’t quite grasp it yet.
A slight twist on the adaptive management idea is the concept of “adaptive governance.” The word “governance” instead of “management” recognizes the collaborative aspects. It’s similar to the idea of “adaptive co-management” that Dave Iverson has described in his post here and here on this blog, citing the summary from the Resilience Alliance.
The concepts of adaptive governance are worth considering in the forest planning and management system for a couple of reasons. First, it includes the idea of learning-oriented planning similar to what Jim Burchfield proposes in his earlier post on this blog. Second, the role of science is different. Instead of relying on scientific management as the foundation for policy development, adaptive governance integrates various types of knowledge in a contextual manner. This is similar to what Sharon describes here and here about analyzing specific questions posed by land managers and the public .
In the book Adaptive Governance: Integrating Science, Policy, and Decision Making by Ronald Brunner, Toddi Steelman, Lindy Coe-Juell, Christina Cromley, et. al., the authors use five case studies across the West. amazon.com oxford journal review
The authors make the following points about adaptive governance:
- Planning sets goals. You try alternatives. The burden of decision making shifts to monitoring and evaluation and terminating policy alternatives that fail.
- No policy is permanent because interests, knowledge, and other significant details of the context are subject to change.
- There is an understanding that politics are unavoidable. Participants assume responsibility and accountability for the policy because they must live with the consequences of implementing it.
- Best available science is integrated with other kinds of knowledge, including local knowledge.
- Science must be contextual, necessitating interpretations and judgments that integrate what is known about the context.
These guidelines appear to converge with other ideas that we’ve noted on this blog. There seems to be evidence that this works. Although NFMA and the previous forest planning rules are grounded in the scientific management process, the 2000, 2005, and 2008 rules introduced the concept of collaboration in all aspects of planning, monitoring, and evaluation, and required the consideration of uncertainty and risk. But what is missing in those rules is the idea that we are committed to using dynamic monitoring and a collaborative evaluation process in order to change policy. For those that think that the NFMA planning rule is just about writing a Forest Plan, this would be a huge surprise and some would argue, a wake-up call. Are the concepts of adaptive governance the next step?