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First Person: Dr. Scott Harrison

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The answer, and this is one of the things I’m gong to talk about, is an idea called "adaptive management."

Q: How would you explain adaptive management?

A: As I wrote (in this week’s Naturespeak column), it’s essentially learning by doing. People make decisions, city councils and governments make decisions every day.

What adaptive management is is a way of making those decisions. It’s the whole process. It’s not just doing something and monitoring the results, then changing it if you don’t like it. The important part happens at the beginning. It’s actually developing a number of hypotheses – I guess in government they would be called options – and saying ‘OK look, we want to get this out of our society, this sort of lifestyle, this sort of water quality, this production from our forests.’ You also want to maintain the ecological parameters that allowed us to have this lifestyle. So, let’s come up with some options that recognize that, but are bound to realistic scenarios.

For example, Whistler might want to come up with a new bus route, and they’re not sure what’s the best way to go, the best way being serving the most people in the most efficient way. So you try a route. Then the next year you change that route.

The whole time you are keeping records and tracking some sort of measurables so in year three you can actually sit back and compare the routes.

What happens in society too often is that once decisions are made, we never revisit them.

There’s a whole series of things that go along with that as part of the formal process of adaptive management. The system looks at what is called belief networks, and there are Bayseian statistics and liklihoods where you measure up front what you expect the probabilities of certain outcomes to be.

It sounds complicated, but it’s really not. It’s really just about recognizing that we know a lot about the world already and before we make decisions we need to address the knowledge we already have.

What I hope to do with the cougar talk, is to use my experience with cougars to explain how I learned how this works. It’s very intuitive, but what’s missing in society is that there is not a formal mechanism to do this.

This is why something like the Olympics are a great opportunity, because (Whistler) will be on stage, because there will be a desire to do things in proper ways and to look at new ways of doing things.