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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Exploring the application of adaptive management and decision analysis to integrated watershed management Ohlson, Daniel Ward


Integrated watershed management (IWM) is the process of planning and implementing water and other natural resources management strategies in watersheds with an emphasis on integrating biophysical, socio-economic and institutional considerations. Common difficulties faced by a large majority of IWM processes include reconciling conflicting objectives, managing watersheds as complete ecosystems, coping with uncertainty, and facilitating meaningful stakeholder participation. This thesis explores the application of adaptive management and decision analysis to these challenging aspects of IWM. Adaptive management (AM) is a systematic approach to improving management and accommodating change by learning from the outcomes of management policies and practices. It involves the design of formal management experiments, the explicit analytical treatment of uncertainty, and the development of ongoing monitoring and adjustment procedures. Decision analysis (DA) is an approach that provides structure for thinking systematically about complex decision situations. Aspects of the approach that are most relevant to IWM include structuring objectives based on stakeholder values, creating and evaluating innovative alternatives, assessing impacts based on subjective technical and value judgments, and dealing with risk and uncertainty. In the thesis, the literature on AM and DA is first summarized into a subset of principles and tools that appear to have the most potential to address prevalent problems in IWM. These are then integrated into a generic planning framework that can be applied to either guide or evaluate IWM processes. The application of this framework is tested through a case study of the Chapman and Gray Creeks IWM Plan process in coastal British Columbia. The results of the thesis suggest that AM and DA offer the means to address some, but not all, of the intractable characteristics of IWM. AM provides a formal approach to improving the quality of information over time and hence the understanding of ecosystem function. From a planning perspective, it may also help to break multi-stakeholder gridlock over controversial facts and assumptions by committing to a program of structured learning and continual adjustment. Decision analysis offers a structured way to attack complicated problems. It improves understanding of the relationships between objectives, alternatives and consequences. Again from a planning perspective, it can increase the transparency of decision making by breaking complex problems into manageable sub-components, structuring information and focusing on key trade-offs. Practical resource constraints limit the relevance of some of the more sophisticated tools of AM and DA, but other tools have the potential for more widespread application. The thesis includes recommendations for improving IWM processes in community watersheds within the provincial planning framework in British Columbia and for areas of further study.

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