From optimization to adaptation: Shifting paradigms in environmental management and their application to remedial decisions



Current uncertainties in our understanding of ecosystems require shifting from optimization-based management to an adaptive management paradigm. Risk managers routinely make suboptimal decisions because they are forced to predict environmental response to different management policies in the face of complex environmental challenges, changing environmental conditions, and even changing social priorities. Rather than force risk managers to make single suboptimal management choices, adaptive management explicitly acknowledges the uncertainties at the time of the decision, providing mechanisms to design and institute a set of more flexible alternatives that can be monitored to gain information and reduce the uncertainties associated with future management decisions. Although adaptive management concepts were introduced more than 20 y ago, their implementation has often been limited or piecemeal, especially in remedial decision making. We believe that viable tools exist for using adaptive management more fully. In this commentary, we propose that an adaptive management approach combined with multicriteria decision analysis techniques would result in a more efficient management decision-making process as well as more effective environmental management strategies. A preliminary framework combining the 2 concepts is proposed for future testing and discussion.