Wildlife and Roads: Decision Guide Step 5

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Step 5 Step 5.1 Step 5.2 Step 5.3

The final step in this Decision Guide assumes that the stakeholders are interested in investigating successes and failures so that lessons learned can be used for redressing shortfalls in mitigation effectiveness on the current project as well as future ones. Hence it is essential to periodically evaluate the results of the monitoring and maintenance plans. "Learning by Doing" involves an adaptive management process that if done correctly (see below), will produce data to assess the effectiveness of mitigation options, so that improvements can be made, effectiveness can be increased, and money can be saved in future mitigation efforts.

Because the field of wildlife and highway interactions is new, scientists and managers are continually faced with new challenges that require learning new and innovative principles. Yet highway project planning and implementation can last for several years, so lessons learned may not be easily incorporated into a project once it is well into the planning or implementation phase. Certainly, an authentic adaptive management process cannot be employed after project construction (see below). This is the reason it is important that if the adaptive management process is to be used, it needs to be incorporated very early in the process.


In his landmark book Adaptive Management of Renewable Resources, Carl Walters stated his basic theme clearly: viz., that management should be viewed as an adaptive process where one learns through experience with management itself, rather than through basic research or the development of general ecological theory. He argues that actively adaptive, probing, and deliberate policies should be part of natural resource policy (Walters, 1986,page vii). Importantly, Walters states that the design of such policies involves three essential ingredients: 1) mathematical modeling to determine the uncertainties is the system that allow one to generate alternative hypotheses; 2) statistical analyses to determine how uncertainties are likely to behave over time in relation to policy choices; and 3) formal optimization combined with game-playing to seek better choices. Walters' essential conditions appear to have seldom been actively pursued by those who profess to do "adaptive management", and instead the process often has been abbreviated to a simpler process that some have termed "learning by doing". In many cases, the hard work involved in these steps are not done; rather, the more common approach is to conduct a management action and a posteriori make a judgment of whether the action is producing the desired effects.

In a subsequent article, Walters (1997, p. 386-287) addressed the misuse of the "adaptive management" process. He reiterated that the "essential idea of adaptive management is to recognize explicitly that management policies can be applied as experimental treatments, without the pretense that they are sure to work, so that management becomes an active process of learning what really works." Walters goes on to say that: "… the term adaptive management came into wide use by natural resource managers, but usually in reference to (and justification for) trial-and-error or monitor-and-correct management schemes that only represent new labels for traditional ways of doing management (and that we would not consider to be sound adaptive management… .". In this same article, Walters provides 7 steps for sound adaptive management. He uses British Columbian forests as his example. The steps are:

  • Step 1: Start by defining policy options and policy performance measures
  • Step 2: Identify major uncertainties by trying to predict the comparative outcomes of policy alternatives
  • Step 3: Use policy screening models to define a good set of policy treatments
  • Step 4: Partition the landscape into experimental units at scales appropriate to the uncertainties
  • Step 5: Plan to monitor only key responses at a variety of time and space scales
  • Step 6: Use AEAM workshop modeling to enhance communication and stakeholder involvement in the policy development process (AEAM is a well established process for involving multiple stakeholders in policy development modeling) (see Walters 1997, p. 390-393). Walters (1997) concludes that given the steps above, adaptive management is not a simple management prescription but involves a very large intellectual and emotional challenge. That emotional challenge involves admitting that any management action is uncertain and that there is no easy way to obtain the needed knowledge. Finally, unexpected outcomes may be the norm.

Given the financial, person-power, intellectual, and time commitments to the process of adaptive management, it is not surprising that natural resource managers have translated trial-and-error or monitor-and-correct management schemes, that only represent new labels for traditional ways of doing management, as adaptive management. They are not.

So what are we to do? We can put in the effort to do adaptive management, or we can use traditional trial-and-error or monitor-and-correct management to guide future actions. If we choose the former, the process needs to start very early in the process of mitigation and scientists with the appropriate mathematical training need to be brought into the process. It is also important to note that true adaptive management occurs in large scale situations with large sums of money for monitoring, typical of management efforts that span multiple jurisdictions over many years. If we are in a situation to choose only the later, then the following sections provide standard guidance, but with the provision for early planning.

Decision Guide Overview Step 1: Resource Evaluation Step 2: Identify Solutions Step 3: Select & Create Plan Step 4: Construction Step 5: Monitor & Evaluate