DoD Biodiversity Conservation Handbook
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Chapter 11: Building a Strong INRMP

Adaptive Management

And once the plan has been sold to the base commander and everyone else, the natural resources manager has the task of making it work.

What Tim Beaty, Mary Hassell, Kyle Rambo, and many others are advocating is part of what's often referred to as "adaptive management." The concept, which has been around for decades, has become a major part of assessing, planning for, and executing big, complicated projects such as those that are required in Integrated Natural Resources Management Plans. Using adaptive management, policies become flexible experiments. For example, a policy to preserve and protect habitat for a certain creature on a military installation (while not only not harming the military mission but actually supporting it) is not set in stone, but rather treated as an effort to be closely watched and modified if required. Formulating the policy and placing it into action during a specified time span (as an INRMP might require) is not enough; managers must calculate over time the responses of the ecosystem to the change. In simplest form, adaptive management might be defined as "learning from the outcome."

For Mary Hassell, adaptive management is a natural part of biodiversity conservation on military lands and waters, and one that is not all that difficult to execute. It's like an annual review, she says: " – the concept of really using the Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan as a tool, and actually using it. It's the concept where 'This is something we're planning to do; we'll take a look at what we're planning to do; we'll fund it and find a way to implement it; and then we'll look at it and see how well we implemented it and see if there's anything we need to change.'

The Integrated Natural Resources Management Plan for Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, in southern California, might be seen as a model of good, instructive reporting. The reasoning behind the lengthy document is expressed lucidly in the first paragraph of its executive summary:

The mission of the Marine Corps is to win battles and make Marines. The Marines need to train as they fight, which requires access to extensive acreages for training. Over time, military training activities pose the potential for adverse impacts to Marine Corps lands and resources. Unless properly managed, Camp Pendleton lands could be impacted to the point where both the quality of training and conservation value of the land could be diminished. Natural resources management supports the Marine Corps mission by ensuring the health of its lands for longterm use.

For a look at the complete Pendleton INRMP, click here.

"The military is pretty dynamic. Sometimes we have a new range or a new weapon system, and things are always moving. There are a lot of moving parts. So we have to constantly try to keep up; keep ahead of the game. So far as managing our natural resources is concerned, the projects in an INRMP give us a chance to practice that adaptive management."

In fact, says Hassell, the concept of adaptive management is useful in reminding managers that the INRMP is just a very useful tool, rather than a doctrine that's set in stone. "The big problem that I see with the INRMPs," she says, "is that a lot of money has been thrown at preparing the plans. It's really not the plans that are important; it's what we're doing on the ground that's important. People think they have to completely revise these documents every five years. But the law says the documents have to be formally reviewed for operation and effect every five years. That means if the plan is still good, you keep it. You might have some new projects, but there's no need to spend $100,000 to regurgitate another plan just to put a new date on it. That is something that DoD-wide people have realized. And we're trying to get the word out there that you don't have to redo the sucker every five years, but we really want you to take a look and ask, How are we doing?"

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Fred Powledge is a writer and editor.

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