Managing within social-ecological systems at the landscape scale, such as in the national forests of the Sierra Nevada of California, is challenging to natural resource managers (e.g. the U.S. Forest Service) due to the uncertainties in natural processes and the complexities in social dynamics. Collaborative adaptive management (CAM) has been recently adopted as a viable strategy to diminish uncertainties in natural processes through iterative policy experimentations and adaptations, as well as to overcome conflicting values and goals among diverse environmental stakeholders through fostering and facilitating collaborations. While many CAM studies have focused on evaluating the management impact on natural systems and processes, few have examined the social engagements and dynamics of management itself. To address this knowledge gap, I examined the various social engagements in CAM, particularly the flow of information products, dialogues in public meetings, and social connections among participants, based on my research case study--the Sierra Nevada Adaptive Management Project (SNAMP).
SNAMP began in 2005 in response to the USDA National Forest Service's 2004 Sierra Nevada Forest Plan Amendment calls for managing the forest using the best information available to protect forests and homes. The participants in the project can be sorted into three primary categories of environmental stakeholders: federal and state environmental agencies, the public and environmental advocacy groups, and university scientists. The project studies the impact of forest fuel reduction treatment on forest health, fire mitigation and prevention, wildlife, and water quality and quantity at two study sites: Last Chance in the northern region of the Sierra forests at Sugar Pine in the southern region. The primary strategies and methods for fostering partnership and facilitating collaboration among the diverse participants are producing science information and making it transparent and publicly accessible, as well as facilitating discussions about such research and management results in public meetings.
To evaluate the effectiveness of CAM in the case of SNAMP, I used a mixed-methods research approach (i.e. citation analysis, web analytics, content analysis, self-organizing maps, social network analysis), by leveraging available information technologies and tools, to characterize and analyze the flow of digital information products, the outcomes of facilitated discussions in SNAMP public meetings, and the resilience of the social networks in SNAMP. Some of the interesting findings include: 1) Scientific knowledge products, in the form of peer-reviewed journal publications, contributed to knowledge transfer between scientists and environmental managers; 2) facilitated discussions helped environmental stakeholders to stay engaged on the important administrative and research topics through time; 3) the social networks experienced turbulence but remained resilient due to the existence of a committed and consistent core group of environmental stakeholders that represent diverse backgrounds and interests. As the picture of how information, conversation, and social connections contributed to the success of CAM emerged, my dissertation provides recommendations to natural resource managers on how to improve in these areas for future implementations of CAM.