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Natural Resource Adaptive Management is unique: how to plan for mitigation within diverse situations

“If you could only measure 10 ecological factors what would those things be?” asked Jonathan Mawdsley, of The Heinz Center asked at a seminar presentation at Colorado State University.


The Heinz Center founded in 1996 is based in Washington DC and brings together business, science, governmental and non-governmental organizations in order to find build solutions to climate change challenges. The Heinz Center created the “State of the Nations Ecosystems” which serves as a scorecard for the environment of the United States, and for other organizations use when planning mitigation strategies. The Heinz Center focuses on deforestation due to carbon outputs, Arctic protection and dialogues between all sectors of the community to provide positive relationships for climate adaption techniques.


The formula of adaptive management


 Adaptive management is a word that is thrown around continuously within the science world and although referenced as a general strategy, its implications are unique, and individualized. It is a structured process of decision making within uncertain outcomes with the aim of reducing this uncertainty for the future by way of monitoring and systematic observation. 


The formula for successful general Adaptive Management takes the form of a circular process of conceptualizing the issues, planning actions, monitoring. Then, analyzing what was monitored, adapting aimed resources, and sharing these for public knowledge.


Identifying what are the most important natural resources to study can be compared to what we see in politics. What are the most imperative economic issues, these could look like unemployment or housing. Yet within the natural resource sector, one must look at the most important environmental problems. Just as in politics, the answer changes within every community. 


Defining the vital ecological systems to focus on is a main objective of the Heinz Center’s adaptive management strategy. “You have to have the people who manage landscapes and habitat in the room,” Mawdesly said as commenting on how to best go about bridging this gap between what people care about and about what is being studied. “Then, build a conceptual model for each target—relationships between target, threats, actions.”


Identifying key natural resources for the Navajo Nation: a unique and important value set 


The Heinz center has been working very closely with the Navajo Nation Department of Fish and Wildlife to develop its first long term 10-year Strategic Plan. For this to be outlined, a set of focal plant and animal species, along with focal areas for conservation must be identified. These indicators may look unique due to Native American beliefs and values. Many resources, areas and animals have cultural, as well as ecological and economic significance that is identified solely to the Navajo Nation. 


For this process to be effective, a wide range of team members representing all sectors of the project were present, and identified all possible priority plans, animals and landscapes and vote to determine the highest priorities and finally they must identify the threats and stressors associated with the identifiers. 


Successful identification for adaptive management indicators 


The team came up five animals that hold cultural and religious value—many being sacred; five plants, used in religious ceremonies, or which hold purpose within the area and five ecological sites that hold traditional significance. The Golden Eagle, the Mesa Verde Cactus and the Pinion-Juniper woodlands are three unique examples of the 15 identified vital resources to protect and study within the Navajo Nation. 


Overall, the strategic plan of identifying a mere 15 indicators of importance from the hundreds of possible ones was successful because “everyone with a responsibility for wildlife management was involved,” said Mawdsley. Along with a staff knowledgeable of the landscape and wildlife and a clear conscious on the initial list of targets, The Heinz Center successfully aided the Navajo Nation within managing its region and the natural life within it.      


The Heinz Center is a leading organization within mitigation adaption planning due to five lessons. First, the process matters as much as the science; they go hand in hand. Second, the monitoring programs require funding and man power—mitigation cannot be effective without resources. Thirdly, oftentimes, there is far more monitoring data available than originally believed: the limitation of research data is small. An organization should always focus on the uptake and implication of data and keeping in mind who will actually use the data one is monitoring for and lastly, management decisions are not always based on science, and therefore mitigation techniques should not be universalized, and the goal of the outcomes should always be at the forefront of natural resource adaptive management.