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ARS Home » Pacific West Area » Burns, Oregon » Range and Meadow Forage Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #228683

Title: Managing Complex Problems in Rangeland Ecosystems

item Boyd, Chad
item Svejcar, Anthony

Submitted to: Rangeland Ecology and Management
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 6/23/2009
Publication Date: 11/1/2009
Citation: Boyd, C.S., Svejcar, A.J. 2009. Managing Complex Problems in Rangeland Ecosystems. Rangeland Ecology and Management. 62(6):491-499.

Interpretive Summary: Current-day management of sagebrush rangelands is made more difficult by the increasing complexity of problems that managers are confronted with due to variability in environmental conditions in space and time. We examine the dynamic nature of complex problems on rangelands and propose techniques for addressing topical issues. When the causes of problems vary in space and time, solutions must remain dynamic and are best viewed within the framework of an adaptive management context. Implementing adaptive management programs will involve overcoming institutional paradigms, emphasizing biological measures of success, forming strong interdisciplinary partnerships, and working within process-based ecological frameworks that allow for advancement through both validation and constructive dissention.

Technical Abstract: Management of rangelands, and natural resources in general, has become increasingly complex. There is an atmosphere of increasing expectations for conservation efforts associated with a variety of issues from water quality to endangered species. We argue that many current issues are complex by their nature, which influences how we approach them. We define a complex problem as one that varies in time and space. In other words, one answer may not be correct for all sites or during all years. For simple problems a generalized answer may be sufficient, and even for complex problems, general rules provide a good starting point. However, we suggest that it is important to distinguish between simple and complex problems. Several key obstacles emerge when considering complex natural resource problems, namely, 1) no single entity can handle all aspects of the problem and 2) significant knowledge gaps exist and will continue to exist into the future. We suggest that overcoming these obstacles will benefit from 1) a framework for effective partnerships and 2) a mechanism for continuous learning. Managing complex problems will require some combination of the following: 1) a process-based understanding of the problem (i.e., what causes variation in time and space), 2) adaptive management, and 3) effective coordination of research and management. There are many examples of organizations applying portions of these approaches to complex problems; however, it seems that in many cases the process has simply evolved in that direction rather than being a planned strategy. We suggest that as a profession we need to have a discussion about the nature of the problems we are addressing and how researchers and managers can jointly address these problems.