Can Adaptive Management Help Alaska’s Natural Resource Managers Respond to Climate Change?
Many legal scholars have called attention to the inability of stationary natural resource management laws to respond to a changing climate. There are various proposals for remedying these laws, including the use of adaptive management, through which resource managers can monitor changes and adjust policies accordingly. Yet there are practical and political challenges to implementing adaptive management. This article considers the extent to which adaptive management has been or could be implemented in response to Alaska’s rapid climate change. Alaska is an important case study as it is warming far more quickly than many other parts of the globe, paving the way for species shifts and new commercial and industrial developments. The article is informed by interviews with twelve natural resource managers and researchers in Alaska as well as additional interviews with Alaskan agency representatives and community members. It concludes that adaptive management is occurring at small scales in Alaska and elsewhere, typically involving actions by lower-level managers in the context of permits or regulations that apply to a single species. These adaptive measures may not be labeled as “adaptive management” in agency regulations or even directly provided for in regulations, but they occur in spite of the many challenges to adaptive management.