Adaptive Management for natural areas on golf courses

California native Hordeum brachyantherum (meadow barley) at the Peninsula Golf and Country Club in San Mateo.

For the research I’m conducting on using native grasses for low-maintenance golf course roughs, I’ve spent time visiting with folks in ecological restoration, conservation, and rangeland management. It was in these conversations I first learned about the idea of Adaptive Management. Adaptive Management is used widely in natural resource management, and is defined as

“a process in which management activities are implemented in spite of uncertainty about their effects, the effects of management are measured and evaluated, and the results are applied to future decisions”

Adaptive Management is a decision-making framework for a complex ecosystem that acknowledges the unpredictabilities of that system. The manager evaluates the impacts of decisions and considers how current success and failures can lead to better decisions that improve future conditions. This is a form of learning by doing; a hybrid of research and management.

I think this is a good approach for managing golf course natural areas, where there is little research and much uncertainty about the system. Adaptive Management is an iterative process, with each iteration we’ll get closer to a goal and reduce overall uncertainty. The manager’s, or superintendent’s, learning is also a central goal of Adaptive Management.

Of course, this is something we already do, intuitively, in many components of golf course management. A relatable concept is IPM. It seems like common sense. The advantage of bringing Adaptive Management to mind—is that we can be intentional. We can better recognize decisions that impact our natural areas and enhance our ability to learn. Additionally, it helps communication to stakeholders about the changing conditions of natural area systems.

Example of an Adaptive Management process, adapted from DOI Adaptive Management Technical Guide.

References and additional reading:
Adaptive Management of Rangelands: Science, Practice, and Partnership. Special Symposium of the SRM International Meeting, 2013.
Adaptive Management Technical Guide. The U.S. Department of the Interior, 2009.
Monitoring Plant and Animal Populations. Elzinga et al., 2001.

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