Adaptive management considers change and cooperation as inherent to management. It has been promoted as an integrated, multidisciplinary approach for confronting uncertainty in natural resources issues. It is adaptive because it acknowledges that managed resources will always change as a result of human intervention, that surprises are inevitable, and that new uncertainties will emerge. Active learning is the way in which uncertainty is addressed.
Adaptive management is a formal process for continually improving resource management policies and practices by learning from the outcomes of operational programmes. In its most effective form – active adaptive management – it is characterized by management programs that are designed to experimentally compare selected policies or practices by testing alternative hypotheses about the system being managed. In all cases it requires: (1) acknowledgement of uncertainty about what policy or practice is best for the particular management issue, (2) thoughtful selection of the policies or practices to be applied, (3) careful implementation of the plan of action, (4) monitoring of key response indicators, (5) analysis of the outcome considering the original objectives, and (6) incorporation of the results into future decisions.
The use of adaptive management as a natural resource management technique began in the 1970s and has been applied to such diverse issues as management of deer, owls, waterfowl, forests, fisheries, and toxicants; effects of rock climbing on plant communities; effects of fishing gear on habitats; restoration of wetlands and coastal ecosystems; effects of fire on nutrient flux; control of hemorrhagic septicemia and rabies; and involving the public in adaptive management.
Adaptive Environmental Assessment and Management (AEAM)
The successes and failures of adaptive management are intertwined with system properties of flexibility and resilience. If there is no resilience in the ecological system, nor flexibility among stakeholders in the coupled social system, then adaptive management is impossible.