Ecosystems are interrelated in many ways. Many watersheds may, for example, comprise a water system that can be looked at holistically and as parts interrelated to one another and to the whole. Present states of the system are connected both to past states and to many possible future states contingent upon decisions and natural events. Adaptive management may be a starting point in dealing with ecosystem management and may help people inside the Forest Service and outside in their efforts to talk with one another about the land and specific opportunities for development and preservation--and the best mix of both through time and across space.

I've packaged three things within:

These three sets of notes are my starting point in understanding the important work of managing sustainable, hierarchically interrelated ecosystems. The ideas are also based on an emerging view of science and nature that that may dispel some of the current controversy about "science."

Interrelated Ecosystems Management:The Case for Adaptive Management
Dave Iverson

I believe that something akin to adaptive management may the key to help us pass over a threshold into an new era for planning, management, science and modeling, ethics and decisionmaking. Carl Walters' Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources (Macmillan, 1986) provides some basic building blocks for our investigation. From his work we will explore the objectives that helped generate adaptive management and get a snap-shot preview as to what it is.

Objectives Behind the Development of Adaptive Management:

In conjunction with the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Laxenburg, Austria, Carl Walters has three objectives for his work:

- To promote international cooperation in solving problems arising from social, economic, technological, and environmental change.

- To create a network of institutions in the national member organization countries and elsewhere for joint scientific research.

- To develop and formalize systems analysis ... to evaluate and address complex problems. And to inform policy advisors and decision makers about [decision-support systems and other tools to aid them in their work].

An important notion--to keep in front of us always--is that:

"Management is done by people as well as for people. We all have limited backgrounds, interests, and abilities to assimilate new ideas; these limits are inevitably carried into the work place, so that decision making about renewable resources is anything but the coldly rational process usually assumed in introductory and theoretical texts."

Adaptive Management: A Preview

"The approach begins with a central tenet that management involves a continual learning process that cannot be conveniently separated into functions like 'research' and 'ongoing regulatory activities,' and probably never converges to a state of blissful equilibrium involving full knowledge and optimum productivity."

Four Basic issues in Adaptive Management:

1. Deciding what the problem is about: bounding the problem.

2. Representing our understanding of managed systems {or natural systems} in term of explicit models of dynamic behavior--spelling out assumptions and outcomes clearly enough so that errors can be detected and used as a basis for further learning {e.g. monitoring and evaluation}.

3. Representing uncertainty and its propagation through time in relation to management actions, while investigating both proven and novel opportunities for improved productivity.

4. Designing balanced policies that provide for continuing resource production while simultaneously probing for better understanding and untested opportunity.


NOTE: Walters' material is from the preface and introduction of his book. Editorial comments are denoted with {}.

Adaptive Management Principles Applied to Columbia River basin problems:

Kai Lee, in "Rebuilding Confidence: Salmon, Science and the Law in the Columbia River Basin," (Environmental Law 21:745-805, 1991) centers the basic principles of adaptive management on a problem we will all learn more about in the coming months and years.

Lee believes that to avoid what he refers to as tragic choices--those that force a society to choose between its fundamental values--we will have to frame problems in ways vastly different than those we are used to seeing. Many natural resource problems have been traditionally framed: preservation vs. use. We may be at a point in time when we can begin to discuss various means toward sustainable rehabilitation of ecosystems, whether they be the Columbia River Basin, or a collection of watersheds that have been subjected to climatic stress and comprise what we might call a "forest health" problem.

Lee stresses that to understand a system we must first perceive the system to be managed {by man or by nature}.

"The essential point," says Lee, "is to intervene in the ecosystem that is being managed {actively or passively} with explicit attention to controls and replication, so that the understanding of system behavior can be tested against experience."

"...Planning assembles a picture of the ecosystem. Information is collected and organized, forming both a database--an index to facts gathered--and a set of hypotheses--a set of beliefs about how those facts relate to each other. Adaptive management tests those hypotheses against the experience [of restoring the system]. Virtually all policy designs take into account feedback from action.

"Adaptive management originates in a comprehensive, ecosystem perspective. Experimental interventions into an ecosystem provide insights into its behavior. Often these insights are useful because they lead to a clearer picture of the management objectives, such as the relationship between diversity of species and the stability of the ecosystem they inhabit. This kind of qualitative knowledge is especially useful in the absence of quantitative accuracy or predictive capability, because a concept of the system must precede efforts to manage it to some end. The adaptive perspective begins from a scientific viewpoint, and its continuation into the realm of action is informed more by the observational interest of the naturalist or astronomer than by the manipulative tendencies of the engineer or entrepreneur.

Formidable Barriers to Managing Large Ecosystems:

"The adaptive perspective is necessary for both scientific and social reasons. Sustainability turns on the ability to manage large ecosystems, requiring an understanding of their behavior in a practical, useful way. But... the analysis of large ecosystems faces imposing barriers.

"First, data are sparse. It is difficult to observe the state of the ecological system and the human economy interacting with it. Measurements of the natural world, such as the size of migrating populations, are inexact, and natural systems often yield only one data point per year (for example the spring runoff).

"Second, theory is limited. Reliable observations are few, and theories of natural environments do not permit deductive logic to extrapolate very far from experience. Also, the perturbations caused by humans are frequently large and unprecedented in natural history, so that it is unclear what theory is applicable.

"Third, surprise is unexceptional. With limited theory comes poor knowledge of the limitations of theory. Predictions are often wrong, expectations unfulfilled, and warnings hollow."

Learning from Modified Ecosystems:

"Because the behavior of ecosystems cannot be understood, much less predicted, on the basis of studies done at the laboratory level, it is essential to learn from large scale interventions into populations and landscapes. Biological uncertainty makes errors and surprises inevitable; experimentation is an efficient strategy for sensing surprise and recovering from error. Experimentation will only return unambiguous results when the interventions are large enough to bring about a discernible change. Large changes are often expensive, risky, and controversial, and therefore require negotiation and planning.

"Adaptive management holds the hope that by learning from experience one can reach and maintain a managed equilibrium, {at least for a while}, with a resilience able to persevere in the face of surprise. The cost of experimentation on the ecosystem scale usually requires creative use of interventions made for other purposes. The Columbia Basin Program is a rare exception, since its goal is sustainable rehabilitation of fish and wildlife, an objective supported by a portion of the revenues earned form the sale of hydropower."

Characteristics of Adaptive Management

"Adaptive management has several characteristics that need to be taken into account in design and practice, if learning is to continue over the time periods needed to accumulate understanding.

"First, as a decision-making perspective, adaptive management is ecosystemic rather than jurisdictional. The adaptive approach crosses boundaries and links functions such as fisheries and land management.

"Second, what is being managed is a population or ecosystem, not individual organisms or projects. Failures at the individual level need to be tolerated, because risk taking is needed if hypotheses are to be tested.

"Third, the time scale of adaptive management is the biological generation {of sustainable systems} rather than the business cycle, the electoral term of office, or the budget process."

In Sum:

"Because control over large ecosystems is fragmented, the search for sustainability requires extensive social interaction: sharing analytical information such as simulation models and databases; identifying tradeoffs and coalitions for joint action; and learning from surprising outcomes. These interactions become ways to negotiate shared substantive agendas that individual organizations and interests cannot achieve by themselves.

"The systematic approach does stake its claims on a perspective of enlightened interest that may be beyond the capacity of the political and organizational culture of our times. Without such enlightenment, however, not only the salmonids, but we too, are doomed by the world we have unmade. That tragic possibility implies a search for a world remade--an earth that is not a treasure to be plundered, but a garden to be tended: managed yet open to environmental fluctuation, natural but cultivated, sustainable and humane."

{I would add that balanced systems, viewed from a distance, will be made up of systems that are "wild" (passively managed) counter-balanced with systems that are actively managed.}


NOTE: The Lee quotes come mostly from pages 782-785. The final paragraph is from his conclusion, pages 804-805. Editorial comments are denoted by {}.


An Interrelated Ecosystems Approach to NFMA/NEPA
-Moving from old to new standards-
Dave Iverson

As we move toward interrelated ecosystem management, we define new standards for planning, management, science, decisionmaking, ethics, and more. Each subject area is visited, in turn, contrasting old and new standards.

Moving from Older to Newer Standards
Old Standard New Standard
Planning: Comprehensive, Rational Interrelated, Hierarchical, Chaotic
Centralized or Decentralized,Rigid
Interrelated teams, Adaptive

Deterministic, Linear, Static--approaching steady-state equilibrium

Stochastic, Nonlinear, Static/Dynamic--steady-state moments interspersed with chaotic moments that lead to novel steady-state moments (punctuated equilibria)

Robust--well-defined theory, good data, and highly predictable outcomes
Embryonic--beginnings of a theory,very little data,and unreliable outcomes -- "Expect to be surprised."

Maps, Linear Optimization, Monetized Cost Benefit Analysis

Geographical Information Systems,Relational Databases, Nonlinear Analysis,Simulation (time and space dependent), Hierarchical evaluation--social,environmental,economic, and political consequences of action

Rigid--"Chain of command", Authoritarian (Experts/Professionals opinions are those that count)
Adapted to context of problem (as interrelated with other problems), Deliberated (All stakeholders'opinions count)

Frontier ethics--compartmentalized, interrelationships of minor import

Post-frontier ethics--holistic, integrated, interrelationships very important


Breakthrough Thinking used in Adaptive Management

Gerald Nadler and Shozo Hibino's Breakthrough Thinking (St.Martin's Press, New York, 1990) offers a business-community counterpart to Adaptive Management. It differs in highlighting the "uniqueness" of problems that is downplayed by adaptive management. I believe our challenge is to recognize uniqueness and champion it, yet to be able to recognize patterns that allow us to make educated guesses about the behavior of systems under examination from learning acquired by studying similar systems elsewhere. If we can do this, we can successfully marry adaptive management and breakthrough thinking and learn from them.

What follows are excerpts from Breakthrough Thinking that may help us piece-together a practical approach to problems we confront when dealing with interrelated ecosystems:

"When confronted with a problem, successful people tend to question why they should spend their time and effort in solving the problem at all. ... [T]hey intuitively approach a problem by first questioning the purpose of solving it. In doing so, they reduce their chances of wasting time and effort on the wrong problem. (p.1)

"Breakthrough thinking is a total, holistic approach to problem solving. . . . [It] combines the best of the visionary and the pragmatic approaches to problem solving and problem prevention, integrating these components to provide specific, day-by-day methods for relating solution-finding to the real world of individual human lives and human organizations. (p.2)

7 Principles (pp.6-9):

"The Uniqueness Principle: Whatever the apparent similarities, each problem is unique and requires an approach that dwells on its own contextual needs.

"The Purposes Principle: Focusing on purposes helps strip away nonessential aspects to avoid working on the wrong problem.

"Think about purposes at different levels (p.27-8). Then arrange the purposes "as a progression from small to large, from immediate to long-range, from minor to major. This ranking or ordering, of purposes, is called a purpose hierarchy."

"For groups, "defining purposes and developing ideal solutions disclosed points of agreement, encouraged positive feelings, and created a sense of mission. Individuals within the group could see more clearly how they could contribute to a solution." (p.24)

"The Solution-After-Next Principle: Innovation can be stimulated and solutions made more effective by working backward from an ideal target solution. (Having a target solution in the future gives direction to near-term solutions and infuses them with larger purposes. (p.88))

"The Systems Principle: Every problem is part of a larger system. Understanding the elements and dimensions of a system matrix lets you determine in advance the complexities you must incorporate in the implementation of the solution. ("[S]olving one problem inevitably leads to another. Having a clear framework of what elements and dimensions comprise a solution assures its workability and implementation." (p.88))

"The Limited Information Collection Principle: Knowing too much about a problem initially can prevent you from seeing some excellent alternative solutions. ("Excessive data-gathering may create an expert in the problem area, but knowing too much about it will probably prevent the discovery of some excellent alternatives." (p.88))

"The People Design Principle: The people who will carry out and use a solution must work together in developing the solution with Breakthrough Thinking. The proposed solution should include only the minimal, critical details, so that the users of the solution can have some flexibility in applying it. ("Those who will carry out and use the solution should be intimately and continuously involved in its development. Also, in designing for other people, the solution should include only the critical details in order to allow some flexibility to those who must apply the solution." (p.88))

"Each person's interest in or commitment to any issue or change is different. Every individual has a unique profile involving achievement desires, creativity, political attitudes, values, psychological needs, and mind-set, as well as a unique personality profile in terms of style, openness, and concern for others. Because of this diversity, Breakthrough Thinking stresses purpose clarification, continuous interaction throughout an effort, and multichanneled solutions to meet individual perceptions, needs, and expectations. (p.54)

"The Betterment Timeline Principle: A sequence of purpose-directed solutions is a bridge to a better future. (The only way to preserve the vitality of a solution is to build in and then monitor a program of continual change; the sequence of Breakthrough Thinking solutions thus becomes a bridge to a better future. (p.89))

Breakthrough Thinking Principles in Use: (pp.34-35)

1. "The most successful problem solvers do not begin by trying to find out what has worked for someone else; they don't try to clone someone else's solution and impose it on a different situation. The first principle, then, is that each problem should be regarded as unique.

2. "The second principle calls for being directed by purposes. . . . [T]he quality of such solutions is significantly better than the results from conventional approaches.

3. "The third principle states that having an ideal target solution for achieving your purpose can lead to innovative solutions and help guide the development of the actual change you will make.

4. "Another principle, the fourth, is that problems don't exist in isolation. Each problem is embedded within other problems, and a solution for one needs careful specification in systems terms to make it workable in relation to other problems and solutions.

5. "In approaching a problem, a great deal of time and effort can be saved by not collecting a lot of information and by not reviewing all the studies that have already been done. the fifth principle asserts that, at the outset, it is actually better to limit what you know about the problem. People, even experts, are better able to cope with incomplete and soft data; successful people often prefer it to hard data.

6 "[People in disagreement] can join in dealing with a problem effectively by focusing initially on purposes. Outstanding problem solvers are diverse people who seek many different sources of information in their problem-solving efforts. This is the basis for the sixth principle.

7 "The seventh principle refutes the conventional wisdom that you shouldn't fix something if it isn't broken. For a solution to be effective, it has to be maintained and upgraded continually toward the target. Even the target needs to be updated regularly. You've got to keep improving a situation or thing to prevent it from breaking down due to entropy, the normal wear and tear of events.

Applying the principles (p.9):

"[H]ow to apply the seven principles of Breakthrough Thinking to find effective solutions for your problems by following a deliberate, orderly and yet iterative approach or pattern of reasoning:

1. With appropriate others, in specific terms, first examine your purposes for solving the unique, immediate problem. Don't ask, What's wrong here? What's the matter? Instead, ask, What are we trying to accomplish here? What are we trying to do?

2. Expand the scope of your investigation to examine ever-bigger and more fundamental purposes and goals. A truly effective solution will address both the immediate and the larger purposes.

3. Of the many purposes you can identify, generate ideas for solutions-after-next around the largest purpose you can practically achieve.

4. Form these ideas into several alternative solutions.

5. Within a systems framework, detail and install the alternative that fits the real world, while coming closest to your ideal target solution-after-next.

6. Supplement that solution and provide for its continuing change and improvement.

Breakthrough Thinking review compiled by Dave Iverson, 4/16/90