Adaptive Management for Natural Resources - Inevitable, Impossible, or Both?
Rocky Mountain Mineral Law Institute Proceedings, Vol. 54, Chapter 11, 2008
34 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2009
Date Written: February 4, 2009
The disconnect between adaptive management in practice and adaptive management in law is quite palpable. Today's practitioner of natural resources law is bombarded with adaptive management. It is firmly entrenched in natural resource management agency practice from headquarters to the field level. It shows up in land management plans, resource development permits, and agency guidance documents. Yet, it appears almost nowhere as codified statutory and regulatory text, and it is dealt with significantly in only a handful of judicial opinions. Agencies can practice adaptive management because their organic statutes are sufficiently vague to allow it, but few statutes mention adaptive management and even fewer require it. No other principle of natural resources management has so deeply permeated the practice on the basis of so little mention in the law. Is this because adaptive management is both inevitable for the practice of natural resources management while being impossible under existing procedural conventions of natural resources law? This chapter explores that paradox and provides a practical overview of adaptive management for natural resources lawyers. The first section describes the origins of adaptive management theory and examines the difficult time natural resources policy has had in translating the theory into statutory and regulatory text. The next section examines applications of adaptive management in three contexts: (1) environmental assessment processes; (2) regulation of private resources; and (3) public lands and resources management. The final two sections survey some of the implementation concerns and difficulties that adaptive management has generated thus far in its brief history and review how adaptive management has fared in the courts.
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