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Climate Variability and the New Frontiers of Adaptive Management: Managing for “User Capacity” in Yosemite National Park

Authors: Daniel Kunches*, Pennsylvania State University
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Mountain Environments
Keywords: Capacity, Adaptive Management, Climate Variability, Yosemite National Park
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Recent levels of climate variability, in California’s Sierra Nevada, have led to flood and fire regimes that have been the subject of much political attention and policy prescription. Increasingly variable environmental conditions require an increasingly adaptive logic to natural resource management. The history and practice of the carrying capacity concept can be traced up to the application of "user capacity" in Yosemite National Park, which is an adaptive management approach to visitor use management, informed by ecological indicators. Because these ecological indicators are generally at the landscape scale, regional and watershed scale variability in environmental processes is not necessarily captured by these ecological indicators as they inform management decisions. This paper examines the scalar implications of ecological indicators and the processes that they are intended to capture, primarily concerning hydrological processes in the context of increasing levels of environmental variability. Furthermore, analysis of the decision making process shows that planning and implementation of user capacity represents an adaptive management approach where decision making occurs at significant temporal and spatial distance from managed resources. The move toward adaptive management approaches for natural resources represents progress by recognizing the dynamic complexities of natural systems, which has been the case with the adaptive management approach of user capacity in Yosemite. This progress has subsequently brought new challenges as the limits of adaptive management, as it is currently practiced, are realized. Climate variability is posing new challenges to adaptive management that must be studied in order to keep pace with increasingly variable natural systems.

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