Adaptive Management (AM) is systematic, practical approach to improving resource management policies and practices. It provides a structured process for learning which management actions best meet management objectives, and for reducing resource management uncertainty. In its most effective form, an experimental approach is used to test clearly formulated hypotheses about important, but uncertain, components of a system.

Adaptive Management has been the cornerstone of ESSA’s approach since our inception in 1979. We have undertaken adaptive management projects throughout North America, including in Ontario, British Columbia, Alberta, Nebraska, Washington, Florida, Arizona, New Mexico, Louisiana, California, and Mexico. ESSA’s adaptive management consulting services include:

  • Expert advice on adaptive management across the AM cycle
  • Independent review of AM plans
  • Developing and implementing AM plans
  • Quantitative decision analysis of alternative actions
  • Screening uncertainties to identify the  most  critical questions
  • Translating these questions into testable hypotheses
  • Detailed spatial monitoring design
  • Design of data analysis and evaluation approaches
  • Workshops with managers, scientists and stakeholders
  • Tailored training sessions on AM best-practice
  • AM policy guidance

Adaptive Management cycle


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Selected Project Descriptions
Title & Client Project description
Adaptive Management Guidance for the Louisiana Coastal Master Plan

The Water Institute of the Gulf

The Louisiana Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA) published Louisiana’s Comprehensive Master Plan for a Sustainable Coast in 2012. Successful implementation of the plan requires development of a programmatic Adaptive Management Framework that will ensure Louisiana’s coastal protection and restoration program can react and adjust to new information, fluctuations in coastal conditions, and changes in allocated funding. The Water Institute of the Gulf was tasked by CPRA to develop the Adaptive Management Framework with advisement from an Adaptive Management Guidance Panel. ESSA participated as an adaptive management expert on this panel to provide guidance and recommendations of the critical components of a programmatic AM Framework.
Independent Scientific Advice for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

Platte River Recovery Implementation Program

ESSA worked as part of a team of leading practitioners in adaptive management across North America to conduct an independent review of the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program’s (PRRIP) draft Adaptive Management Plan (AMP). This role included: educating the PPRIP Governance Committee and Technical Advisory Committees on methods to implement adaptive management; commenting on the CEMs, hypotheses and monitoring protocols developed in the AMP; and suggesting improvements to the overall structure of both the PPRIP and AMP. Since 2009, David Marmorek of ESSA has chaired the Independent Science Advisory Committee (ISAC) for the PPRIP, providing expertise in adaptive management and decision analysis, as well as synthesizing ISAC recommendations.
Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program

Meridian Institute and US Army Corps of Engineers

ESSA jointly served on an Expert Review Panel for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Program’s Adaptive Management Integration Guide. This assignment involved providing expert review of and advice on implementation of adaptive management in the Everglades and how best to utilize adaptive management as the science framework for CERP.
Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program Adaptive Management Plan

US Bureau of Reclamation

ESSA helped the Middle Rio Grande (MRG) Endangered Species Collaborative Program to design and develop an adaptive management plan (AMP) to address multiple objectives for endangered species and water users. The AMP built on the work already completed on the MRG regarding objectives, indicators, and other critical components of robust adaptive management. The AMP focused on monitoring and response actions for the Rio Grande silvery minnow and Southwestern Willow Flycatcher in the context of Endangered Species Act compliance and water supply and management.
Puget Sound Nearshore Partnership’s Strategic Science Review Panel

US Fish & Wildlife Service

ESSA participated as a member of the Strategic Science Review Panel to ensure the best available science was incorporated into designing, planning, and implementing of the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project. Review activities included: (1) rigorously evaluating underlying scientific principles, approaches, methods, and products; (2) sharing lessons learned from other large restoration programs; and (3) assessing scientific validity and uncertainties of the broader restoration program. Identified shortcomings were then used by the Science Review Panel to develop recommendations to improve the Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Program.
Integrated Water Operations and Ecosystem Decision Support Modeling: The Ecological Flows Tool (EFT)

The Nature Conservancy

ESSA developed the Ecological Flows Tool, a decision support system that demonstrates how changes in flow management result in changes to the physical habitats for multiple species within the interconnected Sacramento River and San Francisco Delta. The EFT includes models for 11 species and 24 life history performance indicators. The tool is used to evaluate the ecological implications of alternative water operation and conveyance proposals (including large-scale estuary pumping), and to develop and test ecological flow criteria. Through innovative data visualization methods, the calling card of the EFT is the integration and clear communication of multiple ecological trade-offs associated with multiple scenarios. EFT has emerged as one of the major ecological effects analysis tools used to understand the interrelated effects and trade-offs of alternative Central Valley Project/State Water Project operations.
Integrated Water Management in the Colorado River Basin: Evaluation of Decision Support Platforms and Tools

The Nature Conservancy

Completed in the shadow of the enormous efforts of the Bureau of Reclamation and partners to complete a forward-looking water supply and demand study for the entire Colorado River Basin, The Nature Conservancy selected ESSA to lead a review of alternative decision support platforms and tools for incorporating ecological and recreational flow into water management for the Colorado River Basin.
Collaborative Systemwide Evaluation and Monitoring Project (CSMEP)

Columbia Basin Fish & Wildlife Foundation and Bonneville Power Administration

ESSA was the lead facilitator and coordinator of CSMEP, a collaborative effort to improve fish population and habitat monitoring data and data evaluation methods in the Columbia Basin, involving federal, state and tribal agencies.  This decision-focused effort utilized EPA’s Data Quality Objectives process and other methods to assess the impact of different M&E approaches on habitat and fish management decisions. ESSA was lead author on CSMEP’s reports which provided the ‘design template’ that was to be applied to Monitoring and Evaluation throughout the Columbia Basin, and led several multi-agency monitoring design workshops to integrate existing programs with innovative approaches being developed in ongoing large-scale federal monitoring ‘pilot’ studies.
Development of a Scientific Framework and Integrated Information Management System for the Trinity River Restoration Program (TRRP)

US Bureau of Reclamation

The Trinity River Restoration Program (TRRP) is a large-scale, adaptive management experiment which seeks to recreate the geomorphic processes required to create and maintain salmonid habitat, in the 40 miles below Lewiston Dam. ESSA was engaged by the TRRP to facilitate the development of a scientific framework (conceptual model, monitoring strategy, and adaptive management plan) in support of implementing watershed restoration actions designed to restore the Trinity River in northern California. The scientific framework process focuses on collaboratively developing an integrated conceptual model of the Trinity River system, identifying appropriate assessment criteria, and generating reliable designs for monitoring habitat and populations of Trinity River fish, birds, amphibians and reptiles. ESSA’s role has been to lead the scientists through this process and to provide expert advice to scientific teams with specific analyses. All these elements were incorporated into an Integrated Assessment Plan to assure that funded restoration projects collect data that will increase knowledge, reduce uncertainties, and incorporate adaptive management into all planning, design, implementation and monitoring phases of the TRRP.
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