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Adaptive Management

Whoopers Follow Ultralite An ultralight aircraft leads captive-reared young whooping cranes on the historical route during their first migration. Innovative management techniques are helping to re-establish the endangered whooping crane in the wild. Credit: USFWS.

Adaptive management has been described variously as "learning by doing, and adapting based on what's learned," "management in the face of uncertainty, with a focus on the reduction of that uncertainty," and "management that recognizes uncertainty in its consequences and seeks to improve understanding so as to improve decision making." Whatever the description, adaptive management is seen as a systematic approach for improving natural resource management, with an emphasis on learning about management outcomes and incorporating what is learned into ongoing management. Adaptive management can be viewed as a special case of structured decision making, which deals with an important subset of decision problems for which recurrent decisions are needed and uncertainty about management impacts is high.

Center staff provide leadership, technical expertise, and coordination with the Department of the Interior on adaptive management. Staff members in SDC are the principal authors of the DOI Adaptive Management Technical Guide, which provides guidance on the use of adaptive management. They also are lead authors of the DOI Adaptive Management Applications Guide, which builds on the technical guide in providing guidance for the application of adaptive management. Together these documents present a framework for adaptive management, a discussion of technical and implementation issues, and examples of adaptive decision making in the themes of water resources, energy, climate change, and the interface between human and natural systems.

SDC staff and other experts have created a series of training videos on the use of adaptive management. These videos are available at the following link:

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service also hosts new video recordings of a National Conservation Training Center Course entitled "Adaptive Management: Structured Decision Making for Recurrent Decisions" at the following link:

This course is taught by various experts from the USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and other organizations.

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The Center's ongoing projects in support of science for decision making include field studies, cooperative agreements, books, articles, and conferences.

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Williams, B.K., and E.D. Brown. 2012.  Adaptive Management: The U.S. Department of the Interior Applications Guide. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of the Interior.

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sdcUSGS Science and Decisions Center - Advancing science-based decisions about natural resource management

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Liaison Activities

Advisory Committee, 12th National Conference on Science, Policy, and the Environment, National Council for Science and the Environment, Carl Shapiro and Ken Williams, members.

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Applications in the Field

This page higlights applications now being implemented in the field. These applications are directly connected to thematic concerns of the Center.

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