Adaptive Management

What Is Adaptive Management?

Adaptive management involves implementing a management strategy, closely monitoring its effects and then adapting future actions based on the observed results. In this way, planners simultaneously apply management practices and learn from those management practices.

In brief, adaptive management can be broken into six general steps:

  1. Assess the current conditions; identify any problems; determine goals.
  2. Design a management plan that incorporates these goals.
  3. Implement the management plan.
  4. Monitor the impact(s) of the management plan.
  5. Evaluate the results of the monitoring process.
  6. Modify the plan as needed to respond to changing conditions, as identified through the monitoring and evaluation process.

Adaptive management is a cyclical process, running continuously through these steps. The first two steps involve establishing goals for the management process, while steps three through five represent the actual implementation and evaluation of the process. In practice, many adaptive management plans run through steps 3-6 several times before returning to steps 1 and 2, which may involve a reassessment of the entire management plan, including target goals. It is important to evaluate results and modify management strategies as needed to respond to changing conditions.

Applying Adaptive Management to Land Trust Practices

Land trusts may choose to apply adaptive management practices whenever unanticipated changes affect the conservation value of their protected land. For example, if an invasive species is unexpectedly introduced to the area, the land trust may choose to modify their management practices in order to reduce the likelihood of the invasive species reaching its protected land.

Using Adaptive Management to Develop Climate Change Plans

One of the greatest challenges with planning for climate change is the fact that so much remains uncertain about future climatic conditions. By applying adaptive management techniques, land trust managers are able to move forward with land management plans, and then respond if conditions change in an unanticipated manner. For example, if decreased precipitation and warmer temperatures combine to increase the risk of extreme fires, a land trust may need to adapt its management practices in response.

Although land trusts may choose to develop a new management plan when adopting adaptive management (eg. starting with Step 1, as described above), this approach is not necessary. Land trusts may also modify existing land management practices to be more responsive through adaptive management (eg. starting with Step 4, as described above).

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