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Surprise and Opportunity for Learning in Grand Canyon: The Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program

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With a focus on resources of the Colorado River ecosystem below Glen Canyon Dam, the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program has included a variety of experimental policy tests, ranging from manipulation of water releases from the dam to removal

With a focus on resources of the Colorado River ecosystem below Glen Canyon Dam, the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program has included a variety of experimental policy tests, ranging from manipulation of water releases from the dam to removal of non-native fish within Grand Canyon National Park. None of these field-scale experiments has yet produced unambiguous results in terms of management prescriptions. But there has been adaptive learning, mostly from unanticipated or surprising resource responses relative to predictions from ecosystem modeling. Surprise learning opportunities may often be viewed with dismay by some stakeholders who might not be clear about the purpose of science and modeling in adaptive management. However, the experimental results from the Glen Canyon Dam program actually represent scientific successes in terms of revealing new opportunities for developing better river management policies. A new long-term experimental management planning process for Glen Canyon Dam operations, started in 2011 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, provides an opportunity to refocus management objectives, identify and evaluate key uncertainties about the influence of dam releases, and refine monitoring for learning over the next several decades. Adaptive learning since 1995 is critical input to this long-term planning effort. Embracing uncertainty and surprise outcomes revealed by monitoring and ecosystem modeling will likely continue the advancement of resource objectives below the dam, and may also promote efficient learning in other complex programs.

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2015

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The State of the Colorado River Ecosystem in Grand Canyon: Lessons From 10 Years of Adaptive Ecosystem Management

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The year 2005 marked the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Operation of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, USA. A decade of research and monitoring provides an important milestone to

The year 2005 marked the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Operation of Glen Canyon Dam on the Colorado River, USA. A decade of research and monitoring provides an important milestone to evaluate the effects of dam operations on resources of concern and determine whether or not the desired outcomes are being achieved, or if they are even compatible with one another or not. A comprehensive effort was undertaken to assess the scientific state of knowledge of resources of concern, as identified in the EIS. The result was the first systematic attempt by scientists to conduct an assessment of the changing state of Colorado River ecosystem resources in Grand Canyon over a decadal timeframe. In the EIS, 30 resource attributes are listed along with predictions for how those resources would respond under the Secretary of the Interior’s 1996 Record of Decision, an operating prescription based on the preferred alternative of Modified Low-Fluctuating Flows (MLFF).

Because of a lack of data or subsequent analyses to confirm whether some predictions stated in the EIS were correct, or not, 14 or 47 percent of the outcomes, are essentially unknown. Excluding outcomes that are unclear, then the remaining predictions in the EIS were correct in 7 out of 16 outcomes, or 44 percent of the categories listed. Mixed outcomes occur in 4 out of 16, or 25 percent of the categories, and failed predictions, occur in 5 out of 16, or 31 percent of the categories. As such, less than 50 percent of the outcomes were predicted correctly, underscoring the uncertainties associated with working in a large complex system with few to no long-term data sets. Similar uncertainties are faced by all resource managers charged with ecosystem restoration globally. The acceptability of this kind of uncertainty is influenced by interpretation, societal values, agency missions and mandates, and other factors. However, failure to correctly predict the future, in and of itself, is not deleterious under the paradigm of adaptive management where large uncertainties provide opportunities for learning and adjustment through an iterative process of “learning-by- doing” (Walters and Holling, 1990). Although recent science has documented a continued decline of environmental resources of the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam, it has also identified options that might still be implemented by managers to achieved desired future conditions in Grand Canyon.

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Date Created
2007

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The State of the Colorado River Ecosystem in Grand Canyon: A Report of the Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (1991–2004)

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This report is an important milestone in the effort by the Secretary of the Interior to implement the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992 (GCPA; title XVIII, secs. 1801-1809, of Public Law 102-575), the most recent authorizing legislation for Federal

This report is an important milestone in the effort by the Secretary of the Interior to implement the Grand Canyon Protection Act of 1992 (GCPA; title XVIII, secs. 1801-1809, of Public Law 102-575), the most recent authorizing legislation for Federal efforts to protect resources downstream from Glen Canyon Dam. The chapters that follow are intended to provide decision makers and the American public with relevant scientific information about the status and recent trends of the natural, cultural, and recreational resources of those portions of Grand Canyon National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area affected by Glen Canyon Dam operations. Glen Canyon Dam is one of the last major dams that was built on the Colorado River and is located just south of the Arizona-Utah border in the lower reaches of Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, approximately 15 mi (24 km) upriver from Grand Canyon National Park (fig. 1). The information presented here is a product of the Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program (GCDAMP), a federally authorized initiative to ensure that the primary mandate of the GCPA is met through advances in information and resource management. The U.S. Geological Survey`s (USGS) Grand Canyon Monitoring and Research Center (GCMRC) has responsibility for the scientific monitoring and research efforts for the program, including the preparation of reports such as this one.

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Date Created
2005