SW Community Forestry Caucus

Adaptive Management

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The hands-on nature of the FCSFP reflects the adaptive management aspects of community forestry. Through a process of learn-as-you-go, adaptive management entails learning form what does not work, as well as what does (Richard 1995). Because through adaptive management we are learning about what works, it is often associated with a monitoring program associated with initial ecological conditions, proposed actions to treat or restore the landscape or site, and an assessment to determine to what degree the expected results of the prescription have been achieved.

Adaptive management is in essence a decision-making process based on a sequential determination if you are achieving the desired management goals in the forest. To make an appropriate determination requires a description of the baseline conditions, clear delineation of the treatment options and actions, and an interdisciplinary approach to evaluating the actual outcomes. A multitude of potential desired outcomes, sometimes relating to water quality, wildlife habitat, soil conditions, insects, and wildfire behavior, among others, can often make the implementation of adaptive management fairly complex. This often creates some tension over the amount of scientific resources and time that can be devoted to assessment and monitoring, even though the fundamental need for adaptive management is well accepted.

The need for adaptive management is clearly a function of the current testing or demonstration phase of community forestry and the underlying goal of improving ecosystem conditions. Even though it is time consuming and requires substantial community and scientific resources, it is necessary to understand which of several thinning and restoration prescriptions are most reasonable within given ecological phases, stand structures, and dynamic conditions.

An example of how a variety of restoration treatments is being implemented, monitored and adaptively managed is occurring on lands around Flagstaff, Arizona through many stakeholders participating in the Greater Flagstaff Forest Partnership (GFFP). A series of key program elements and commitments from the GFFP website (www.gffp.org) presents a concise picture of the important interrelationships between forest restoration, science, monitoring, and adaptive management:

  • A Framework for Restoring Forest Ecosystems: The Partnership uses a framework of comprehensive ecological restoration as our guide in developing proposed actions in the forests. Restoration treatments may include combinations of selective small-tree thinning, reintroduction of surface fire, access and recreation management activities, road obliteration, weed control, etc.
  • Strong Scientific Foundation: Projects are designed based on a rigorous scientific understanding of the processes that shaped the natural ecosystem’s structure and function. Actions are proposed to improve forest ecosystem health and sustainability based upon this understanding.
  • Restoration is Approached as an Experimental Field: The Partnership recognizes that there is much that we don’t know about restoring forest ecosystems. This uncertainty requires us to test a variety of approaches. We are currently testing and researching restoration prescriptions developed by Northern Arizona University’s Ecological Restoration Institute, the USDA/USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, and the Southwest Forest Alliance.
  • Extensive Research and Monitoring: The Partnership is committed to researching and monitoring the key ecological, economic and social impacts and issues associated with landscape-scale restoration. The Partnership’s first 10,000-acre landscape scale project at Fort Valley includes a $500,000 ecosystem research budget and over 20 ongoing studies.
  • Commitment to Adaptive Management: Research and monitoring results are fed back into the Partnership to improve the design of future projects. The Partnership’s scope covers a 100,000-acre analysis area, in which a mosaic of restoration activities will be proposed over a 10-year period, moving in a step-wise, adaptive fashion. We estimate that ultimately 30-50% of the overall area will receive some type of restoration treatment.

While over the past five years within the FCSFP, the methodologies of adaptive management have been in a “start-up” mode, due in part to the limited scale and variety of many of the restoration projects, it is anticipated that increased investment in it will be made over time. The recently developed long-term stewardship contract on the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, the White Mountain Stewardship Project, should provide many opportunities for adaptive management applications.







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