How Do We Change If The Direction Is Wrong?

Feedback to management

Approaches to management are typically linear, without serious checks on their effectiveness, implying that we are either confident about the outcome, or have little concern.1  Conservation biology is theoretical and the effectiveness of most conservation policies and programs is largely unproven.2  To improve the effectiveness of management decisions and policies, a framework of adaptive management integrates a continual learning process through a management loop (Figure 1).   In this circular approach, management interventions are treated as “experiments” and are monitored to determine whether they are working.

Figure 1.  The adaptive management loop.

The ongoing collection of new information helps to adjust management decisions and strategies, revise and rank monitoring questions and data needs, shorten lists of focal species and other measures, revise thresholds, and validate and improve models.  If the management loop is not closed, the management process limits learning, and adjustments cannot be made to meet goals.

Planning must ensure that the management loop will be closed.

  • Monitoring programs tend to focus on the technical aspects of design, with little consideration given to the specifics of how that information will be maintained and used.3
  • Feedback to management can be used to determine weaknesses where improvements to management will be most effective, to decide on effective combinations of forestry practices, or to determine how close we are to thresholds and targets.4
  • The management system must formally incorporate ways of receiving information and of adjusting planning and practice.  Details such as “who” will analyze and interpret the data, and “how” the information will be maintained and transmitted to managers must be included in the monitoring plan.
  • Monitoring results must be presented simply, they must point out relative weaknesses, show ways to improve, and those making decisions must assess what the best options are, or if current ones are satisfactory.4,5

Examples of Feedback to Management

For ecological representation (Indicator 1)

Management feedback from the monitoring of ecological representation should focus on identifying poorly represented ecosystem types, or concerns with the spatial distribution of non-harvestable land.  Management tools to improve weaknesses in ecological representation include:
1.  designating or re-locating Old Growth Management Areas;
2.  enhanced stand-level retention practices in poorly-represented ecosystems;
3.  moving reserves, developing alternative strategies such as old-growth restoration or conservation covenants; and
4.  buffering non-harvestable areas with higher retention stands or using landscape planning tools to enhance interior, non-harvestable forest.

‘Representation monitoring’ also indicates priority ecosystems for the other portions of the monitoring program.  Areas most critical to monitor are those with the least amount left in the unmanaged landbase.  Bunnell et al. (2003) note actions that can help reduce the risk of omitting biologically significant habitats from the analyses for Indicator 1.4

Useful corrective feedback to management and monitoring actions were provided by the initial ecological representation analyses performed in 2001 on the Weyerhaeuser coastal tenure.

  • Old Growth zones initially were delineated in a few, large contiguous areas.  A few were reallocated to improve ecological representation and increase alignment with areas of public concern.
  • The main weakness within unharvestable areas (under-representation of drier/warmer variants) has stimulated two actions:  a pilot restoration program to develop old-growth characteristics in riparian zones of the east side of Vancouver Island, and an economic analysis of the costs of applying the program elsewhere (e.g., southeastern Vancouver Island).
  • Under-represented areas have been identified as areas where future fine-scale monitoring can be focused.
  • Representative, larger areas than can serve as benchmark controls have been identified and are being used for long-term monitoring.6

In the short term, changes in representation levels from management actions—like moving Old Growth zones—were far overshadowed by changes resulting from the timber supply analysis redefinition of the non-harvestable landbase  (note: substantial areas formerly designated non-harvestable were redefined as harvestable, and additional amounts of partially constrained forest appeared).  Over the longer term, change in representation can be tracked and management actions in response to representation tracked and assessed for effectiveness.

For habitat and landscape structures (Indicator 2)

Feedback to management from monitoring stand-level retention focuses on identification of the weakest points, by comparing managed stands to benchmarks or to known habitat requirements of organisms.  Comparisons of alternative practices can suggest best options to improve weak points, or improvement can come directly from changes in operational practices in the field.  Monitoring operational blocks through time shows progress towards improving stand-level habitat retention.  Feedback at the landscape level most likely will be through simulations of alternative planning scenarios.  The weakest points in habitat structure retention, at harvest or projected through the rotation, can help focus the organism monitoring on groups that are most sensitive to those structures.  Alternatively, organism studies may identify additional habitat features that should be incorporated into the structural monitoring.  Habitat structure monitoring also will contribute to refining our definitions of “ecologically distinct ecosystem types” used in monitoring Indicator 1.

For organisms (Indicator 3)

Information on species feeds back to management in several ways: 1) Occurrence of species can be used to examine reductions or expansions in ranges to indicate potential problems or successes; 2) trends in populations can trigger closer scrutiny to discover mechanisms; 3) for species whose occurrence or population can be linked with habitat elements or landscape features, management actions to increase the supply of those elements can be implemented; 4) information on species-habitat associations helps refine relationships to allow modeling over large areas and long timeframes.  As models increase in their predictive ability they are better able to guide and improve practices.

1Noss, R.F. and A.Y. Cooperrider. 1994. Saving natures legacy: Protecting and restoring biodiversity. Island Press, Washington, DC. 416p.
2Lindenmayer, F.B. and J.F. Franklin. 2002. Conserving forest biodiversity: A comprehensive multiscale approach.  Island press, Washington, DC. 351p.
3Mulder, B.S., B.R. Noon, T.A. Spies, M.G. Raphael, C.J. Palmer, A.R. Olsen, G.H. Reeves and H.H. Welsh. 1999. The strategy and design of the effectiveness monitoring program for the northwest forest plan. USDA Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Station. PNW-GTR-437.
4Bunnell, F.L. , B.G. Dunsworth, D.J. Huggard and L.L. Kremsater. 2003. Learning to sustain biological diversity on Weyerhaeuser’s coastal tenure.  The Forest Project, Weyerhaeuser, Nanaimo, BC.
6Huggard, D. 2001. Ecological representation in Weyerhaeuser’s non-timber landbase. Report to Weyerhaeuser Adaptive Management Working Group.