Interior Department Publishes New Guide on Use of Adaptive Management in Natural Resource Decision-Making

Provides Managers Examples of Successful Adaptive Strategies

Last edited 09/05/2019

WASHINGTON – When managers at Denali National Park needed to protect nesting golden eagles from potential disturbance by hikers, they used an adaptive management approach that allowed them to monitor and adjust their strategies based on what they learned over the course of time about how well they were working.

Natural resource managers are increasingly using adaptive management as a tool in making complex decisions whether to protect eagles, set waterfowl harvest limits or manage the flow of rivers to meet recreational, agricultural and other needs.

As a result, the Interior Department recently published Adaptive Management: The U.S. Department of the Interior Applications Guide, a new guide that provides federal, state, tribal and other natural resource managers with tools to more effectively address the complexities and uncertainties involved in natural resource management, especially under challenging conditions such as climate change.

“This guide represents an important part of Interior's commitment to help natural resources managers deal with climate change and other natural resource challenges,” Deputy Secretary of the Interior David J. Hayes said. “In today's complex world, such a guide is an essential tool for resource managers, who must make sound decisions in the face of scientific uncertainty."

Adaptive management provides a mechanism for managers, scientists and other stakeholders to collaboratively improve resource management over time by learning from previous and ongoing management activities and outcomes, Hayes said.

For example, adaptive management will be a valuable tool in helping inform Interior's Landscape Conservation Cooperatives and Climate Science Centers, as well as in other departmental efforts to address pressures on natural resources caused by threats ranging from urban sprawl, to wildfire risk, to climate change-related impacts through collaborative and science-based approaches.

The Applications Guide includes case studies ranging from river flow management and protecting migratory birds to siting renewable energy projects. These are drawn from four areas important to Interior and its partners: climate change, water resources, energy, and human impacts on the landscape. The examples show the breadth of adaptive management applications at different scales and different levels of complexity.

Rhea Suh, Assistant Secretary for Policy, Management, and Budget, led the Department's efforts to develop the applications guide. “The applications guide is intended to be useful to multiple audiences, from technical users who need information on particular scientific issues, to managers who want practical information on the sequence of steps in project applications,” said Suh, who charged Interior's Office of Policy Analysis with coordination of the new guide.

The guide has significant contributions from Interior bureau and office staff, representing a wide range of management interests and expertise. Its lead authors were Ken Williams and Ellie Brown from the U.S. Geological Survey, with assistance from many other contributors.

The Applications Guide is available for download at It was designed to complement and build on the framework established by its companion document, Adaptive Management: The U.S. Department of the Interior Technical Guide, available at

While the Technical Guide includes a discussion of the basic criteria for applying adaptive management, as well as step-by-step descriptions of implementation, the Applications Guide includes examples, case studies and discussion of “how-to” issues.

Current Adaptive Management Projects Detailed in the New Guide Include:

Dam Operations at Tallapoosa River in Alabama: Adaptive management has been used at the R.L. Harris Dam on the Tallapoosa River in east-central Alabama since 2005 as part of an innovative approach to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has collaborated with U.S. Geological Survey scientists, the dam's private utility operator and other stakeholders to manage water to improve habitat for native aquatic species at risk, including four fish species and one mussel species. The project provides a useful template for incorporating adaptive management and decision support into future FERC relicensing processes.

Nesting Golden Eagles and Recreational Activities in Denali National Park, Alaska: Back-country hiking, airplane tours and other recreational activities in Denali National Park in Alaska are enjoyed by visitors but may also have negative impacts on nesting golden eagles in the park. This is no small matter because the park has the highest reported nesting density of golden eagles in North America. National Park Service biologists and managers at Denali have collaborated with U.S. Geological Survey scientists to develop an adaptive management project for managing human disturbance of nesting golden eagles at the park to maintain the eagle population.

Climate Change and Laysan Ducks in Hawaii: The Laysan duck is a critically endangered species with breeding sites so restricted that any catastrophe, such as sea-level rise from climate change, could result in extinction. Twice during the last century, the lone remaining population was pushed to the brink of extinction (in 1911, only 11 individuals remained). To increase chances of species survival, managers from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey, are adaptively managing the translocation of ducks to establish breeding populations on other unoccupied islands within the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument in the northwestern Hawaiian islands.

Blanca Wetlands Habitat for Waterbirds in the San Luis Valley in Colorado: The Bureau of Land Management is working with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and Ducks Unlimited to restore and preserve habitats in the Blanca wetlands in Colorado's San Luis Valley – an area consisting of nearly 15,000 acres of marshes, ponds and periodically flooded basins called playas. The Bureau adaptively manages local water flows to produce the salinity levels and seasonal vegetation needed to provide habitat for waterbirds, waterfowl, and shorebirds.

For more information on the new guide, please contact Olivia Barton Ferriter, Deputy Director, Office of Policy Analysis at, or 202-208-4881. To obtain a hard copy of the guide, please contact Ken Williams at or 703-648-4260.


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