The language of the cuttingedge decisionmaking process known as adaptive resource management is confusing. Many terms involved16x16 transition matrices, utility functions, iterative phase and Bayes Theoremcan be downright intimidating to the uninitiated.
But adaptive resource management is increasingly popular as a framework for projects on national wildlife refuges and elsewhere, so its probably high time to let Sara Vacek demystify the concept.
Vaceka wildlife biologist at Morris Wetland Management District in Minnesota for her entire 10year U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service careerechoes what an instructor once told her: Adaptive resource management is learning through management and adjusting management action based on what you learn.
Imagine a continuum, Vacek says. On one end is trialanderror problemsolving. On the other end is scientific research in which the whole point is simply to learn. Adaptive resource management is right in the middle between those two, she says. Its a way to combine science and management effectively.
Vacek, several other Service staff members and U.S. Geological Survey scientists are utilizing the technique on a massive native prairie management project. The conservation effort, which involves 20 Refuge System field stations and 120 management units in the Prairie Pothole Region, is aimed at controlling two invasive grassessmooth brome and Kentucky bluegrassusing various forms of disturbance, including prescribed fire, grazing and haying.
Vacek and Service employees Kim Bousquet, Pauline Drobney, Vanessa Fields, Bridgette FlandersWanner and Todd Grant displayed a science poster about the project at last summers Conserving the Future conference. The posters title is a mouthfulAn Adaptive Approach to Invasive Plant Management on Fish and Wildlife ServiceOwned Native Prairies in the Northern Great Plains: Decision Support Under Uncertainty.
Its content is a bit technical. However, it gets to the essence of adaptive resource managementwhich is to use probability models to forecast outcomes of various conservation options.
The adaptive management framework requires a conservationist to make a systematic prediction of whats likely to happen before acting. It also requires conservationists to periodically reexamine and revisit decisions within an established time frame.
The adaptive management pattern is: action, monitor, model … possibly new action, remonitor, remodel … repeat. The result, says Vacek, is more certainty than with traditional trial and error.
The thinking is that the less blind flaying around that you do, the more efficient youll be, says Vacek, who appreciates the Prairie Pothole invasive grasses projects adaptive management approach. I hope Im not biased, but I feel that this is the first one where were kind of getting it right.
USGS scientists and Service biologists in the field have been working together from the start, and communication among them has been an ongoing conversation rather than periodic oneway communication. In addition, Vacek says, adaptive management is a good way to be more transparenttransparent to my boss, to his boss and to the American public.
Adaptive management can be challenging, she acknowledges, but mostly because its a new way of thinking that were not used to.
At the moment, there is another minus from the Service perspective: a dearth of statisticssavvy personnel capable of building probability models. The invasive grasses project model, for instance, was developed by the USGS.
Still, Vacek sees adaptive resource management as a wave of the future because it merges science and management to the benefit of both.
I always hear a lot of talk about refuge managers making sciencebased decisions, she says, but this actually is incorporating science into our decisions.
To see a depiction of the Prairie Pothole Region invasive grasses project, go to http://AmericasWildlife.org/conference/science and look for poster No. 16.