2A.6 Changing Climate, Challenging Communities: A Democratic Approach to Adaptive Planning

Monday, 18 July 2011: 2:45 PM
Salon A (Asheville Renaissance)
Andrew George, Univ. of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, NC

When designing adaptive management strategies to address climate change, many practitioners have difficultly wrestling with citizen engagement. Given that most models for democratic decision-making were developed before the climate-change era, new interdisciplinary problem-centered “crisis-disciplines” have emerged to address stakeholder input, science, and democratic conservation strategies. This proposal argues that the challenge of implementing adaptive planning for federal lands management holds lessons about citizen involvement that inform adaptive management strategies for new climate-related realities.

Climate change is not coming; it's already here: spring comes a week earlier to the Northern Hemisphere, severe rainstorms have grown by 20 percent, winter weather events are intensifying, coral reefs are bleaching, and sea levels are rising (McKibben 2009). The coming years will require adaptive approaches that incorporate citizen participation in decision-making to address the emerging climate-related problems and develop alternative energy solutions. Unfortunately, conventional models of democratic representation may be inadequate to handle the challenges unfolding today.

The pre-1960's Progressive-era paradigm traditionally limited implementation of adaptive planning by focusing on rational, technocratic, and efficient management to the exclusion of direct citizen participation (Steelman 1999; Stankey & Shindler 2003:7). This elite model of democratic theory was eventually eclipsed by a form of pluralism designed to aggregate preferences through interest group representation. Although it is the dominant model in most modern Western-liberal democracies today, aggregative pluralism has come under criticism for alienating the general public, further consolidating power in special interest groups, and eroding trust in government (Andrews 1999; Mouffe 1999, 2000). In response to these shortcomings, some scholars have promoted alternative theories to best understand citizen involvement, including Deliberative Democracy (Rawls 1971; Habermas 1975) and Agonistic Pluralism (Mouffe). These democratic theories inform adaptive (Rivlin 1971; Holling 1978; Lee 1993; Ludwig, Hilborn & Walter 1993; Holling & Meffe 1996; Gunderson 1999), collaborative (Gray 1989; Wondelleck and Yaffee 2000), dissent-based conservation (Peterson et al. 2005; 2007), and other management strategies for environmental problem-solving.

Adaptive management relies on ‘learning by doing' and feedback mechanisms to build and inform projects in the face of uncertainty (Holling 1978). Additionally, some scholars argue collaborative or stakeholder-driven partnerships are essential for the “effective implementation of adaptive management,” including open and inclusive public processes, early and continuous involvement, and long-term relationships to build ownership among participants (Shindler 1999). Berkes, for example, argues “this approach, bringing the community actively into the management process, is fundamentally different from the command-and-control style” (2003: 624). Given the shortcomings of conventional interest group representation, adaptive management has emerged as an attractive alternative for climate-related problem-solving involving urgency, uncertainty, and citizen involvement. Despite its promise, designing effective adaptive management projects has proven difficult. Successful implementation runs into problems relating to conflicting statutory law, regulatory hurdles, and the lack of citizen participation (Cheng & Mattor 2006). Unfortunately, adaptive management, “for all the rhetoric and headlines, however, is an abstraction, with limited examples of real world application” (Stankey and Shindler 10). The U.S. Forest Service (Forest Service), for example, has tried to implement adaptive “ecosystem management” projects for U.S. National Forests since the 1990's, including the NW Forest Plan, the Sierra Nevada Framework, and national forest planning under the National Forest Management Act (NFMA). These three projects were discarded by the Bush Administration and replaced with a new version of adaptive planning under the umbrella of the Healthy Forest Initiative (HFI).

After 100-years of wildfire suppression and industrial logging, federal land became ripe for forest health issues; climate-related drought only intensified wildfires and insect outbreaks. The Bush Administration solution to this problem was the HFI, unveiled in the ashes of the Biscuit Wildfire (Oregons largest ever). Purportedly to break policy gridlock (Bosworth 2002) and expedite project-level activity (HFI), the HFI changed national forest planning by: 1) increasing collaboration and stakeholder participation in project-level and forest-wide planning (36 CFR 220(ii)); 2) eliminating conventional forms of public participation (administrative appeals) for certain project-level decisions (36 CFR. µ 215.12(f)); and 3) exempting broad new categories of management from the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) to expedite project-level management (Categorical Exclusions; Extraordinary Circumstances) (68 Fed. Reg. 33,814; 44,598; 67 Fed. Reg. 54,622). By most accounts, the Bush Administration adaptive planning approach was unsuccessful in applying adaptive management to federal environmental planning. In short, several HFI policies were stuck down by federal courts (Friends of the Earth v Ruthenbeck), the public was not effectively brought into national forest planning (Teich, Vaughn, & Cortner 2004), and forest health problems are only intensifying (Hanson 2007).

This proposal uses a real-world case study of the HFI to demonstrate potential hurdles facing practitioners interested in applying adaptive planning and management to climate-related environmental issues. As the HFI example shows, conflicting management objectives (e.g. increasing stakeholder participation while decreasing scientific assessments) hold many lessons for those interested in the role of science in adaptive planning and decision-making. Furthermore, given the emergent climate-related changes—not to mention the lag time before worse effects of GHG emissions inevitably kick-in—any aggressive action to curb GHG emissions will have to happen concurrently with efforts to adapt to new environmental realities. Adaptive planning aimed at multiple moving targets must incorporate the most informed public participation processes. Based on lessons learned from the HFI, adaptive climate-related planning should prioritize ecological restoration projects that include both active management and public participation without triggering conflict. In short, adaptive management requires close attention to the public participation process, and this proposal includes an analysis of the most current models of democratic theory based on a recent environmental case study.

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