Adaptive Management

Adaptive Management 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. This approach follows the six basic steps shown in the diagram at right.

Adaptive Management has been the cornerstone of ESSA’s approach since our inception in 1979. Our focus is on helping clients implement various aspects of Adaptive Management to solve resource management problems. We also provide customized training workshops in Adaptive Management in both English and Spanish.

If you and your organization are interested or involved in aquatic or terrestrial resource management, then you may find tremendous benefit from learning more about Adaptive Management, and how it can be applied.

  • Are you uncertain about whether you are meeting your resource management objectives?
  • Are you having difficulty deciding the best way to meet these objectives?
  • Are you uncertain as to the environmental outcomes of some of your management actions?
  • Do stakeholders disagree about the outcomes of management actions?
  • Do stakeholders disagree about which are the ‘best’ management alternatives?
  • Do you have difficulty deciding, with confidence, among alternative management actions?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then Adaptive Management can help. While Adaptive Management is not the ‘universal hammer to all environmental nails,’ it should be a critical part of the toolbox used by managers and stakeholders to resolve difficult problems.

Selected Projects

  • A study into the factors enabling successful adaptive forest management (AM), and how these factors differ between public and private entities; National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry.
  • Running a workshop on Adaptive Management in Ecological Restoration; Northern Arizona University, Ecological Research Institute.
  • De-mystifying adaptive management training course and simulation model; BC Ministry of Forests.
  • Watershed adaptive management training in Mexico; Trent University.
  • Developing an Adaptive Management Plan to help protect and improve the status of endangered species in the Middle Rio Grande of New Mexico while also protecting existing and future regional water uses, for the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program.
  • Developing an adaptive management plan for Dry Creek, California, to restore habitat for listed coho and steelhead populations.
  • Leading a team of scientists in the Trinity River Restoration Program to develop conceptual models, restoration objectives, sampling designs, and monitoring methods, all organized into an adaptive management plan called the Integrated Assessment Plan.
  • Chairing the Independent Science Advisory Committee for the Platte River Recovery Implementation Program, and the Committee’s expert on adaptive management and decision analysis.
  • Providing expert advice on adaptive management to the Science Peer Review Panel (SSPRP) for the Puget Sound Nearshore Ecosystem Restoration Project.
  • Reviewing Adaptive Management Plans for a port expansion, three diamond mines, a gold mine, and a rock quarry, for both Federal government and First Nations clients.
  • Designing and delivering Adaptive Management Training Workshops, for the BC Ministry of Forests and Range, the American Fisheries Society, and local members of the International Association for Impact Assessment.
  • Serving on an expert review panel to r guide to implementing adaptive management in the Central Everglades Restoration Program, for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
  • Facilitating research, adaptive management, monitoring and modelling activities to restore salmonid populations in Kennedy Lake, BC, with native bands, fisheries agencies, logging companies, and local community groups.


Murray, C., C. Smith and D. Marmorek. 2011. Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program Adaptive Management Plan Version 1. Prepared by ESSA Technologies Ltd. (Vancouver, BC) and Headwaters Corporation (Kearney, NE) for the Middle Rio Grande Endangered Species Collaborative Program, Albuquerque, NM. 108 pp.

Murray, C. and M. Nelitz. 2008. Review of Diavik and EKATI Adaptive Management Plans. Prepared by ESSA Technologies Ltd., Vancouver BC, for Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Western Arctic Area, Central and Arctic Region, Yellowknife, NT. 23 pp.

Marmorek, D.R., D.C.E. Robinson, C. Murray and L. Greig. 2006. Enabling Adaptive Forest Management – Final Report. Prepared for the National Commission on Science for Sustainable Forestry by ESSA Technologies Ltd., Vancouver, BC. 94 pp.

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