Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units Program: Georgia
Education, Research and Technical Assistance for Managing Our Natural Resources

Moore, C. T., E. V. Lonsdorf, M. G. Knutson, H. P. Laskowski, and S. K. Lor. 2011. Adaptive management in the U.S. National Wildlife Refuge System: Science-management partnerships for conservation delivery. Journal of Environmental Management 92:1395-1402.


Adaptive management is an approach to recurrent decision making in which uncertainty about the decision is reduced over time through comparison of outcomes predicted by competing models against observed values of those outcomes. The National Wildlife Refuge System (NWRS) of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is a large land management program charged with making natural resource management decisions, which often are made under considerable uncertainty, severe operational constraints, and conditions that limit ability to precisely carry out actions as intended. The NWRS presents outstanding opportunities for the application of adaptive management, but also difficult challenges. We describe two cooperative programs between the Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey to implement adaptive management at scales ranging from small, single refuge applications to large, multi-refuge, multi-region projects. Our experience to date suggests three important attributes common to successful implementation: a vigorous multi-partner collaboration, practical and informative decision framework components, and a sustained commitment to the process. Administrators in both agencies should consider these attributes when developing programs to promote the use and acceptance of adaptive management in the NWRS.