'Adaptive management' gets OK

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For years, the Bureau of Land Management has managed public lands following "adaptive management" processes. But the revised resource management plan that the Little Snake Resource Area is developing will incorporate adaptive management to a greater extent than ever before.

Adaptive management is a system of management practices aimed at achieving clearly identified outcomes. Projects are monitored to determine whether management actions are meeting outcomes. If they aren't, management is changed to best ensure that outcomes are met.

It's a complex, often expensive process, and for these reasons, adaptive management often has lost out to prescription management strategies, said Jeremy Casterson, who is coordinating the management plan revision.

Prescription management is basically a set of instructions for managing a resource. It's not very flexible, and when it doesn't work, plans need to be rewritten, Casterson said.

"We want to get away from that," Casterson said.

To clarify the difference between the management strategies, Casterson used an example about a pipeline in Alaska. In the example, the BLM wants to make sure the pipeline doesn't obstruct wildlife movement. Following prescription management, the BLM would just instruct the pipeline contractor to bury the pipeline. But using adaptive management, the BLM would allow the pipeline constructor to find his own solution to avoid impeding wildlife movement. For instance, the constructor could decide to build the pipeline 10 feet above the ground.

Dana Bishop, a graduate student in Colorado State University's Natural Resources Department, is working with the Northwest Colorado Stewardship as she writes her master's thesis. The stewardship is a grass-roots organization working closely with the BLM on the resource management plan.

Bishop has developed an adaptive management process, which she introduced to the stewardship during a workshop earlier this month.

"I'm evaluating whether the process worked, its strengths and weaknesses, how the group worked together and how did those knowledge sources combine," Bishop said.

The stewardship will use an adaptive management process as it develops goals and objectives for the management plan.

Adaptive management has been used extensively in management plans for McInnis Canyons near Grand Junction and Steens Mountain in Oregon.

The Little Snake Field Office has used adaptive management strategies somewhat informally for years while managing public- lands uses such as livestock grazing. It's relatively simple work to monitor rangeland to see whether grazing is meeting the management objectives for a particular area, Casterson said.

But other land uses are more difficult to manage with an adaptive strategy, and with still others, it's impossible.

An important aspect of adaptive management is defining indicators that will be used to measure whether an action is reaching the desired objective and trigger points that indicate a management practice needs to be changed. Trigger points can be a critical, minimum or threshold, an existing standard or an agreed upon target.

Oil and gas development is one land use that can be problematic for adaptive management, Casterson said. If oil and gas development reaches a trigger point that means a management practice needs changing, making the change isn't always simple. When developers lease mineral rights, they think they will be able to work there for the duration of the lease and management won't be changed drastically in the middle of the lease.

But the BLM is working with natural resource developers to find solutions to manage oil and gas development with an adaptive style, Casterson said.

Endangered species preservation can't be managed with an adaptive style.

There are too many mandates in place to allow for flexibility with endangered species management.

The BLM is collecting public comment on the resource management plan until Monday. The resource management draft is scheduled for public release by summer 2006.

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