Salmon 2100: The Future of Wild Pacific Salmon

Can We Get There from Here? Salmon in the 21st Century

Denise H. Lach, Sally L. Duncan, and Robert T. Lackey


Salmon recovery might best be described as a “wicked problem,” which can be described as an evolving set of interconnected issues and constraints. There is no definitive statement of a wicked problem, and, in fact, you might not even understand what the real problem is until you find a solution. Solving wicked problems such as salmon recovery is fundamentally a social process, and getting the “right” answer may not be as important as having stakeholders accept whatever solution emerges. To make wicked problems even more difficult to deal with, constraints on emerging solutions—ranging from limited resources to political ramifications—are highly volatile over time. Other characteristics of wicked problems include large numbers of people who care about getting the problem resolved—with stakes ranging from financial to spiritual or ethical; confusion and disagreement, even anger, among stakeholders; and the tendency to go on for years without any real progress. The idea of so-called wicked problems was advanced by Horst Rittel and Melvin Webber more than 30 years ago to explain why it is so difficult to resolve certain types of problems (Rittel and Webber 1973).