WWETAC Projects

Project Title: Adaptive co-management of riparian resources on private and public land in the US west: An inventory of challenges and opportunities

Status: Ongoing

Principal Investigators: Hannah Gosnell and Jill Smedstad, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR

Collaborator: Paige Fischer, Western Wildland Environmental Threat Center

E-mail Contact: Hannah, Gosnell, gosnellh[at]geo.oregonstate.edu

Background: In recent years, the environmental governance literature has seen a growing interest in alternative institutional arrangements for addressing cross-scale environmental problems.  According to Lemos and Agrawal (2006), co-management is a form of hybrid environmental governance that emphasizes collaboration between community and state actors.  Huitema et al. (2009) further define co-management as arrangements that enable actors at differing scales and sectors (government, community, civil society) to share responsibilities and power.  Tenets of adaptive management practices such as social learning, experimentation, and flexibility are often incorporated into co-management principles; this approach is referred to as adaptive co-management (Huitema et al. 2009).  Adaptive co-management governance models recognize the complexity and interdependencies of environmental problems, and are seen as effective mechanisms through which to manage and resolve environmental threats across multiple spatial and social scales.  By emphasizing decentralization, consideration of multiple scales and adaptive approaches, co-management can help to overcome human tendencies to de-couple interacting systems, discount the future, and avoid making decisions under uncertainty.
Environmental conflicts and threats on public and private lands in the US West offer a unique lens through which to examine the ability of institutions and communities to adopt an adaptive co-management governance model.  Conflicts over multiple, interacting threats to riparian areas on public and private lands in the arid West (frequently including cattle grazing and endangered species issues) may potentially benefit from an adaptive co-management governance model.  However, existing institutional and community arrangements may pose significant barriers to implementation of such a model.

Study Objectives: While much academic literature calls for adaptive co-management governance, the field has only emerged in the last 20 or so years (Huitema et al. 2009, Lemos and Agrawal 2006).  In order to increase understanding of the theoretical, management, and policy implications of this governance model, we propose to examine challenges and opportunities associated with implementation of adaptive co-management.  Our focus will be on conflict and environmental threats related to riparian area management on public and private lands in the arid western US.  The primary questions this research will address are: 

  • What strategies and conditions enable communities and public land management institutions to implement adaptive co-management of riparian resources to address multiple interacting threats?
  • What barriers stand in the way of communities and public land management institutions implementing adaptive co-management of riparian resources?
  • How might those barriers be overcome?

Methods: This research will examine seven cases of riparian-related environmental conflicts across the arid western US.  All seven cases differ in the nature of the conflict, actors and agencies involved, and spatial and temporal scales of environmental threats.  Qualitative research methods will be employed utilizing in-depth semi-structured interviews of a total of 50 community and agency stakeholders.  Interviews for three cases (10 interviews each) will be conducted in-person, and the remaining cases will be conducted as phone interviews (four cases, five interviews each).   Cases have been chosen to complement research currently underway by Dr. Hannah Gosnell. 

Products: The results of this research will be summarized in a manuscript and submitted for publication in a peer-review journal by December 2011.

Background Citations:

Huitema, D., Mostert, E, Egas, W., Moellenkamp, S., Pahl-Wostl, C., and Yalcin, R. 2009. Adaptive water governance: assessing the institutional prescriptions of adaptive (co-)management from a governance perspective and defining a research agenda. Ecology and Society 14(1): 26. [online]

Lemos, M.C., Agrawal, A. 2006. Environmental Governance.  Annual Review of Environment and Resources.  31:297-325.

Project ID: FY10PF85