Breath of Clarity

Comment #1 on Evaluating Collaborative Adaptive Management and Adaptive Management

Original Post by Genevieve Brune:

Adaptive Management

Natural resource management is a complex topic that engages many different participants and landscapes. In order to help address the uncertainties and help facilitate decisions, the adaptive management (AM) approach can be used (DOI 2012, v). This technique helps scientists and policy makers come together and manage resources through knowledge and learning from past actions (Scarlett 2012, 2). AM started gaining traction in the 1990s, and really took off in the early 2000s (Scarlett 2012, 2).

The reasons that adaptive management started to be used more often are the same strengths the process has now. For example, there are many different agencies involved in natural resource management, so adaptive management attempts to make a more unified approach between them all (Scarlett 2012, 2). Further, this also improves management practices by having these agencies follow the same guidance (Scarlett 2012, 2). Next, a major strength is the fact that decisions build off of past experiences and learning new information (Scarlett 2012, 2). Due to a continuously changing landscape, especially with climate change effects worsening, it is incredibly important for managers to make quick decisions and be able to adjust these actions quickly as well. As new knowledge is gained, managers can make tweaks and continue to monitor the progress of the resources.

Although, there are a number of weaknesses and challenges that come with adaptive management. For one, there are a number of different constraints that limit the effectiveness of adaptive management. Some of these limitations include funding and budget constraints, organization and legal constraints, time constraints, and a lack of coordination amongst participants (Scarlett 2013, 2). For example, one agency may have more resources and a higher budget than another agency, making their uses of adaptive management differ.

Collaborative Adaptive Management

Collaborative adaptive management (CAM) is very similar to AM. The goals are the same, as well as the steps in the process, but the major difference is the encouragement of cooperation. CAM aims to solve the issue of the lack of coordination that comes with AM (Scarlett 2012, 2). The strengths of CAM are that it encourages early coordination between parties, setting clear goals, and developing clear processes (Scarlett 2012, 7).

However, CAM comes with its own set of issues, similar to those that come with AM. For CAM, the main weaknesses are the involvement of many different jurisdictions, fragmented budgets, and time lags from environmental laws, such as the National Environmental Policy Act and the Endangered Species Act (Scarlett 2013, 7). While CAM seems like the ideal system for managing resources, it can be sidelined by legal concerns or environmental legislation that come with using these acts. Additionally, a weakness is difficulty to agree and measure performance metrics (Scarlett 2012, 5). Scientists rely on more certainty and knowledge, while resource managers need to fall within their budget limits and risk that comes along with quick decisions (Scarlett 2012, 3). This can lead to disagreements about how the success of CAM should best be measured. For example, there could be a lot of conflict over how best to measure dynamic issues, like responding to changing climate conditions.


Department of the Interior. 2012. Adaptive Management: The U.S. Department of the Interior Applications Guide. Washington D.C.: US Department of the Interior. Chapters 1-3, 5-6. Accessed Nov. 5, 2019.

Scarlett, L. 2013. Collaborative adaptive management: challenges and opportunities. Ecology and Society 18(3):26.

My Comment:

Hi Genevieve,

Excellent post! I found a remarkable article about the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in relation to CAM. It was interesting to read about landowners who perceive the Endangered Species Act (ESA) as unfair because they want more involvement in the conservation process (Olive 2016). The paper presents analysis from 141 interviews with landowners in the United States and Ontario (Olive 2016). In recognition of distributive justice claims, both the U.S. and Ontario governments have enacted programs aimed at increasing financial incentives for participation and compliance with the law (Olive 2016). However, even landowners who are aware of the incentives still perceive the law as unfair because the landowners’ deepest desire is to be included in the protection and recovery process, as well as be considered by government and society as good stewards of the land (Olive 2016). After reading your post, I see the United States Fish and Wildlife Service disagreeing about performance metrics. What are your thoughts on this? How would future amendments to the ESA confronting procedural justice and justice as recognition change the outcome of T&E species conservation efforts?


Olive, Andrea. 2016. “It is just not fair: the Endangered Species Act in the United States and Ontario”. Ecology and Society. 21(3).