Making Adaptive Management Work: Lessons from the Past and Opportunities for the Future
Michael L. Jones and Gretchen J. A. Hansen
One of us (MJ) recently gave a talk at a national fisheries conference in Canada with the title “Maybe We Should Just Admit We Have No Idea What We’re Doing.” This title was of course chosen with tongue firmly planted in cheek, although it did have the effect of drawing a crowd! But why would this be an appropriate title for a fisheries talk? Because decision makers are nearly always very uncertain about the consequences of the management actions they contemplate taking. And being uncertain is not just annoying; it matters. It matters because the choices we make need to account for risk, which results from uncertainty. And it also matters because it means that reducing uncertainty is a good objective for management—so that we are less uncertain in the future. Establishing the reduction of critical (i.e., policy-relevant) uncertainty as an objective of management is the essence of adaptive management (AM). Both of us have had a lot of experience with AM during our careers: one of us was a new member of the group that first presented AM to environmental scientists and managers, both of us have taught about it, and one of us made it the central theme of her graduate research project. In this essay, we will share our perspective on AM gained from these experiences and offer an optimistic outlook for the future.