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Adaptive Urban Forest Management

Adaptive Urban Forest Management – Part #1 Introduction

Urban forestry is both ecological science based, and value driven. Its current social and bio-physical context is unprecedented.

It is appropriate to think of urban forest management and conservation as experimental. It has been likened to a conversation between the urban landscape and society, carried out in the language of ecological processes. It is a hard but rewarding dialog and is the focal point of the urban forest discipline. But there are many unknowns and high levels of uncertainty involved.

Adaptive Management is a scientific approach to an urban forest management decision process.

It promotes flexible decision-making that can be adjusted in the face of uncertainties as outcomes from management actions and other events become better understood (Stankey et al. 2006). Using an adaptive management approach requires the periodic and consistent monitoring of all criteria used to judge urban forest sustainability. Adaptive management techniques can be used to determine if urban forest conservation actions are effective, develop relationships between management actions and outcomes, and identify significant trends. Management actions can then be adjusted over time as changes occur both in the physical/biological environment and in the expectations of society.

Careful monitoring of intended outcomes of management activities both advances scientific understanding and helps adjust policies or operations as part of an iterative learning process. Adaptive management does not represent an end in itself, but rather a means to more effective decisions and enhanced benefits. Its true measure is in how well it helps meet environmental, social, and economic goals; increases scientific knowledge; and reduces tensions among the various segments of society.

Few urban forestry activities are as important to the success of management as monitoring, but this step is often overlooked, poorly designed, and underfunded. Monitoring of natural resources is a process very similar to those already developed for business. The basic applications have already been developed, and there is little reason to reinvent them. Effective monitoring programs need to incorporate the principles of sampling theory and experimental design. Careful consideration must be paid to the selection of indicators.

Types of Monitoring

Monitoring here refers to the periodic and systematic measurement of observations of process or object. Three forms of monitoring should be instituted in association with urban forest management activities: implementation, effectiveness and validation.

The implementation monitoring will determine if the plan is being implemented as designed. It asks, “Did we do what we set out to do?”

Effectiveness monitoring determines if the action achieved the stated goal or objective. It asks, “Did it work?”

Validation monitoring determines if assumptions and models being used are valid and effective.

Part #2 I this series will provide an example of urban forest monitoring for Adaptive Management.

G. H Stankey; Clark, R.N; and B.T. Bormann, eds. 2006. Learning to manage a complex ecosystem: adaptive management and the northwest forest plan. Res. Pap. PNW-RP-567. USDA Forest Service