ESSA was chosen to conduct a 1-year study for the National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry that sought to gain insight into the factors enabling successful adaptive forest management (AM), and how these factors differ between public and private entities.

We employed three methods: literature review, written and telephone surveys of AM practitioners who had implemented recent projects, and a workshop with a subset of survey respondents. We interviewed twenty respondents that represented AM projects led by one NGO, thirteen public and six private forest management organizations. The projects were distributed across nine states and two provinces, and ranged from plot to watershed scales and from a few hundred to seven million dollars in project costs.

Most AM projects had positive outcomes. For fourteen of the twenty projects, the AM initiative led to changes in policies or future management actions. Our literature review identified ten factors that could be either enabling or inhibiting to AM—factors which should be considered in a hierarchy. The historical and current context for the initiative is the top factor within the hierarchy; it motivates the need for AM. Leadership, executive direction, problem definition, and communications / organization structure are in the second tier—all required to get AM initiatives successfully started. AM leaders can then artfully focus on the third tier (community involvement, planning, funding, staff training and the conduct of science), understanding the unique context of each project (e.g. corporate culture, stakeholder relationships, scale and focus of the project), and ensuring that any one factor does not become strongly inhibiting (i.e., tending the AM garden). Executive direction and the conduct of science appear to distinguish more successful projects from less successful ones.

Despite the challenges of adaptive management, the results of the survey and workshop show that adaptive management can be and is successful at a variety of scales for problems of differing complexity. We did not find significant differences between public and private forest management entities in either their level of AM success or the factors which enabled it.