Adaptive wetland management in an uncertain and changing arid environment
Rebekah Downard, Utah State University
Joanna Endter-Wada, Utah State University
Karin M. Kettenring, Utah State University
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Wetlands in the arid western United States provide rare and critical migratory bird habitat and constitute a critical nexus within larger social-ecological systems (SES) where multiple changing land-use and water-use patterns meet. The Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge in Utah, USA, presents a case study of the ways that wetland managers have created adaptive management strategies that are responsive to the social and hydrological conditions of the agriculture-dominated SES within which they are located. Managers have acquired water rights and constructed infrastructure while cultivating collaborative relationships with other water users to increase the adaptive capacity of the region and decrease conflict. Historically, water management involved diversion and impoundment of water within wetland units timed around patterns of agricultural water needs. In the last 20 years, managers have learned from flood and drought events and developed a long-term adaptive management plan that specifies alternative management actions managers can choose each year based on habitat needs and projected water supply. Each alternative includes habitat goals and target wetland water depth. However, wetland management adapted to agricultural return-flow availability may prove insufficient as population growth and climate change alter patterns of land and water use. Future management will likely depend more on negotiation, collaboration, and learning from social developments within the SES than strictly focusing on water management within refuge boundaries. To face this problem, managers have worked to be included in negotiations with regional water users, a strategy that may prove instructive for other wetland managers in agriculture-dominated watersheds.
adaptive management; collaboration; Great Salt Lake, Utah; social-ecological systems; water policy; wetlands
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