Many approaches to rare species management formulated by academics lack practicality and meaning for managers. Here, we propose an approach, which we refer to as population viability management (PVM), that is based on linking monitoring and management models with population models. By closely coordinating biological analyses with the range of decisions and actions considered by managers, the PVM approach ensures that population models reflect realistic management options and risk tolerances, and that adaptive conservation systems remain focused on population viability rather than statistical targets indirectly tied to population persistence. We summarize our use of PVM to formulate draft recovery criteria for the endangered island fox and to generate specific guidance for conserving this species. We argue that PVM can be widely adapted to provide more biologically justified and focused management and monitoring recommendations than those typically emerging from conventional population viability analyses. Overall, PVM represents an effective and understandable tool that enables managers to optimize monitoring effort and better control risk for species of concern.